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EDITORIAL The Governor’s Tax Breaks IF GOVERNOR GEORGE W. BUSH wanted to make some small progress in the tax-equity campaign he claims to be leading, he might begin in Henderson County in deep East Texas, where a loophole in the state property tax code provides Bush the sort of tax break not available to most people who pay ad valorem taxes in Texas. The Governor is one of eighteen members of the Rainbo Club, a hunting, fishing , and social club that prior to 1992 received an agriculture exemption and currently has a special Texas Parks and Wildlife exemption for recreational use. The Governor’s threethousand-five-hundred-square-foot vacation home on a piece of waterfront property purchased complete with the previous owner’s furniture, according to a deposition in a lawsuit that has named Governor Bush as a defendantis an ad valorem tax bargain. In 1995, according to tax records, the governor’s property tax bill was $371.48 \(up amount also covered the Bush guest house. To qualify for the tax exemption the Governor enjoys, exclusive property use for recreational, park, or scenic purposes must be enforceable by deed restrictions that will remain in effect for at least ten years. Because the Rairibo Club qualifies for the exemption, the property that Henderson County Tax Appraiser Bill Jackson describes as twelve hundred acres of prime, waterfront property, which includes such improvements as roads, a dam and retaining walls along the lake front, has an appraised tax value of $217 per acre and a fair market value of $550 per acre. Less than a mile from the exclusive club, the seven and a half acres of sandy loam that Vernon Ornsby’s mobile home sits on are appraised at eight times the per-acre value of the Rainbo Club’s property. The GOvernor bought his lake house in 1991, when club members were scrambling for a mechanism to lower their property taxes. “Roy Busby and I are trying to draft a deed restriction for the Rainbo lands for the purposes of reducing the ad valorem taxes,” wrote club member Robert Payne, in a letter filed as an exhibition in a Henderson County lawsuit. Payne, a Dallas lawyer, explained that he was studying a copy of deed restrictions that another East Texas recreational club had used to lower its taxes. The Rainbo Club, he advised fellow club members, had “been denied the tax exemption previously claimed and cannot do anything…we must pay taxes on a regular basis.” Rather than pay taxes on a “regular basis” as the Rainbo club’s neighbors like Mr. Ornsby do, the club would find another exemption. By May of 1992, Rainbo Clubber R. Neal Bright informed proPerty owners that the tax problem had been resolved. “I am enclosing a letter from Roy Busby, our ad valorem tax man, which sets out the new assessed values of the Rainbo property and the estimated r .,, THE TEXAS 111P server NOVEMBER 17, 1995 VOLUME 87, No. 23 FEATURES Austin and Indonesia By Robert Bryce 5 Freeport Loses Insurance By Robert Bryce 8 DEPARTMENTS Dialogue Editorials Bush’s Tax Break; TNRCC Chemistry 3 4 Las Americas Wellsprings of Rebellion 1 0 Journal Block That Sausage 12 Molly Ivins Bidness as Usual 14 Jim Hightower Not Easy Being Green 15 BOOKS AND THE CULTURE West Texas Poetry Poetry by Robert Burlingame Nelson Algren in Texas Book review by Peter LaSalle Las Girlfriends Arrive Book review by Steven Kellman Unequal Punishment Book review by Paul Jennings 16 18 19 21 AFTERWORD Bullfights, Vegetables, Death By Dagoberto Gilb 23 Political Intelligence 24 Cover art by Ben Sargent taxes for 1992 under the Park & Recreation use qualification. We are now ‘legit’ as to our ad valorem status,” Bright wrote. Questions posed to the governor in a deposition, and a receipt for a large number of pine seedlings, suggest that the earlier exemption Payne referred to was an agriculture exemption. The Rainbo Club story had made the rounds at the state’s dailies back when George W. Bush was Ann Richard’s Re THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3