To the Editor:
Most economists agree that it’s bad to raise taxes when times are tough. Unfortunately, one Oklahoma tax goes up every year. State law allows county assessors to raise property taxes up to five percent annually, in good times and bad. On Election Day, Oklahoma taxpayers will have a chance to lower that cap to a more reasonable three percent, which will still give local government three percent more revenue each year.
State Question 758 – the first one on your ballot –- is not a tax cut; it’s tax restraint. That is a simple, yet meaningful, reform that will ease the property tax burden.
In 1996, voters established a five percent annual limit on property tax increases. Unfortunately some county assessors have added the maximum increase every year.
They began boosting property tax bills by five percent every year. At that rate your property taxes would double every 13 years, and in some counties that is exactly what has happened.
Property taxes help fund public schools, county government and other local agencies like libraries and health departments – all necessary functions to be sure. But most local entities also receive funding from state and federal sources, and in most cases property taxes only make up a portion of their total budgets.
Opponents of State Question 758 claim it would “cut” school or county funding. It won’t. It will simply slow the rate of growth to sensible levels. Opponents have also claimed that some people’s property taxes could increase if SQ758 passes, which is simply incorrect. And claims that it could reduce funding for fire and police protection are also bogus, since fire and police budgets come from cities, not counties.
Large annual increases in property taxes are annoying for everyone, but they place an extra burden on seniors, who may be living on fixed incomes and trying to hold onto their homes, on young first-time homebuyers whose income levels may be low and on those hardest hit by the economic downturns of the past decade.
If your property tax bill is $2,000 this year, a five percent annual increase would make it $4,000 in 13 years. In too many cases involving seniors especially, the time eventually comes when the decision over whether to keep the house or move to a nursing home may be made on the basis of ever-rising property taxes.
Tax policy should encourage homeownership and help seniors stay at home for as long as they are able. It should not seek to drive people from their homes and make them a burden on state taxpayers.
State Question 758 will lower the maximum annual increase to three percent. It won’t cut funding for schools and counties by a single dime. It will only slow the annual rate of growth in property tax revenues, and give a much-needed break to hard-pressed homeowners and farmers. I urge you to vote yes on 758 on Election Day.
State Rep. David Dank