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Bud Kennedy: Texas' Dan Patrick claims taxes are too high. Is he paying his share?

Fort Worth Star-Telegram logoFort Worth Star-Telegram 2/10/2019 By Bud Kennedy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Feb. 09--FORT WORTH -- First as a talk-radio showman and then as a showoff in Austin, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been screaming for 16 years how property taxes are too high.

Turns out his are too low.

Patrick's tax bill on his new $1 million home on Lake Conroe went down 14 percent last year, the Houston Chronicle reported Friday. He is undertaxed by 8 percent compared to what he actually paid for the house.

Too bad we can't protest his tax appraisal. If we could, he'd pay several thousand dollars more that he should owe Montgomery schools and Montgomery County instead of getting a suspiciously lucky break.

The news comes three months after Patrick won a closer-than-expected election over a weak Democrat, and the same week as a raucous Texas Senate hearing in Austin on a bill that would throttle cities', counties' and schools' authority to raise local taxes more than 2.5 percent for inflation.

"They keep referring to skyrocketing property taxes," said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, a Hurst Republican.

"It amazes me that they don't say, 'Hey, of course, we haven't experienced that."'

Whitley, 66, is an accounting executive in his 22nd year on commissioners' court. He testified in Austin against the bill, saying local taxes go up mainly because the Legislature doesn't spend enough to pay for jails, courts or schools.

"I think they've manufactured a problem," Whitley said Friday.

"I think Chicken Little is alive and well."

Since 2003, Patrick has brought evangelical zeal to the crusade for lower property taxes, even though Texans' tax burden is around the national average.

As a conservative talk show host in politically volatile Houston, he helped lead CLOUT (Citizens Lowering Our Unfair Taxes) to a "High Noon" political showdown in Austin, but got the brush-off from a Senate committee chairman -- a Dallas Republican.

Four years later, he was elected to the Senate.

Patrick was not quoted by the Chronicle in the Friday report. He and his wife, Janet, bought the house in May 2017, according to Montgomery Central Appraisal District records.

The three-bedroom, 4,326-square-foot home was built in 2013 and appraised in 2016 at a value of $1,164,230. The taxable value has since declined to $968,200 and now to $921,110.

So his taxes this year went down about $2,700.

Property values on Benthaven Isle went down in 2017 based on sales data, the chief appraiser told the Chronicle. But only a handful of nearby homes went down in value again this year.

The newspaper quoted appraiser Tony Belinoski: "We treat political figures no differently than any other property owner in Montgomery County."

Patrick still pays more per square foot than many neighbors, the newspaper said.

But either he overpaid and the value has suddenly gone down, or his taxes are too low.

At the Austin hearing, Whitley and other doubters of Austin's property-tax panic were badgered and belittled by committee members.

"You'd think we were going of the cliff" with taxes, Whitley said.

But the increase in city and county taxes the last 10 years works out to about $2 per person per week, he said. School taxes have gone up more, because the state hasn't added enough spending to meet inflation or the 700,000-student increase in school population.

Part of the tax bill makes sense. Lawmakers have good ideas about making taxes easier to understand and making appraisals more honest.

Including their own.


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