III: Dragon-Slayers has proposed the abolition of the state’s property tax levy in 1968. The argument runs that since the state tax is tied to county property taxes, which are uneven in their application from county to county, it is inequitable; it cannot be made equitable without excessive expense; and therefore it should be abolished. It is argued that the money$40 million a year–will be freed for local tax purposes, but there is nothing in the league’s proposal to provide that local taxing agencies would get the money the state would lose. The significance of abolishing this tax does not seem to be generally understood. The commission’s summary report No. 4 on the subject provides the necessary insight. The inequity of state property taxes on homesteads is “either very small or non-existent” because homes are assessed at very low percentages of true value, and this together with the homestead exemption of $3,000 “eliminates the state property tax on many homes,” it is explained. “However,” the commission says, “the inequity for the state property tax is quite significant in the case of business and industrial properties.” An example is given of a $50 million manufacturing plant that would pay $49,350 in Bexar County, $41,370 in Travis County, or $27,090 in Jefferson County. Not only most homesteads, but also $250 of household furniture per family, the property a farmer uses, and family supplies for home and farm use are exempted from the state property tax. As Lynn Anderson of the University of Texas institute of public affairs explains, “The fact is that the homestead exemption and low assessment levels have combined to remove a large part of the value of residence homesteads from the state [property] tax base and have left business properties the main constituent of this base.” The commission also recommends exempting, from property taxation, all intangible personal property, such as “cash on hand, money on deposit . . . accounts receivable, s t o c k s, bonds . . .” And in a last-minute proposal to the legislature this year, it urged abolition of the amusements admission tax, which yields about half a million dollars a year. How to replace these lost revenues? The commission gives not a hint. One must, of course, keep firmly in mind that the commission’s new recommendations are not the league’s. “The league does not make any recommendations which would affect the tax liability of any individual or business,” McGrew says. “The recommendations which would affect tax liability are those of the commission on state and local tax policy.” Yet, in a 1962 pamphlet, the league was not averse to leading off its list of league accomplishments with the sales tax in these words: “During 1961, the Texas legislature implemented a number of recommendations growing out of league studies: “The state’s financial structure was stabilized by enactment of a broad-base ‘growth’ tax \(Limited years of fiscal instability.” Now that the tax commission is free to recommend tax policy, will it propose, this session or next, abolition of VESTED INTERESTS of a certain kind have, however, changed the league’s staff men from stolid fact-seekers into fired-up dragon slayersthe “vested interests” that seek higher welfare grants for the indigent. The league’s reports to state agencies are quite different, in one respect, from their reports for the legislature’s tax studies. In the reports to the agencies, the league itself takes sides. Always this is done in the name of economy. Whether it can also be done in the name of objectivity is more arguable. the food exemption? Or can it be expected to advocate a corporate income tax? With conservative presiding officers of the House and Senate appointing its members, the question answers itself. What happened, for instance, to the proposal of Roy Evans, secretary-treasurer of the Texas A.F.L.-C.I.O., before the commission last November that the cornconduct a “comprehensive study of the vested interests in Texas and out of Texas which are not bearing their fair share of the tax load”? If the commission ordered a study so conceived it would be asking the business and commercial powers of Texas to finance tax studies leading toward increases in their own tax rates. Surely it can be said truly and plainly that the tax studies of the state commission have tended to favor the business and commercial interests that have financed its research. For instance, in the spring of 1961, the league sent a study to the state board of public welfare slamming federally-aided medical care \(which was then being proposed by the Demofinancially insignificant state program in its stead. In a report to league members entitled “League proposes state financed medical care rejecting federal aid,” the league said: . . . most of the medical needs of Texas public assistance recipients are already being met under existing programs. . . . The cost of I the league’s] proposed statelevel program would be approximately February 7, 1963 7
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