One of the bills that was lost late in the session this year was property tax reform in the form of SJR-5. This was probably the single most disappointing occurrence of the session.
Last April, chances are that you received your property tax assessment. I would also guess that regardless of whether or not your property appreciated in value, your bill reflects a 5% increase in your payable assessment over last year. This is the time of year when my office receives calls or e-mails from citizens experiencing the challenge of coming up with a larger-than-ever property tax payment. Second only to road improvements, the issue of higher property taxes is of major concern to my constituents.
SJR-5 would have allowed the people to vote on decreasing the 5% assessment increase cap to 3%.
I believe property tax to be the most unfair form of taxation. This tax actually punishes a person for land ownership and taxes them year after year for the same property.
As property taxes continue to rise, more citizens are priced into lower housing brackets than what they could afford if they didn't have to pay the high taxes. Others are faced with the dilemma of whether to sell their properties or pay the high tax rates. The challenge faced by individuals with fixed incomes is forcing the legislature to make exceptions to the number of people who have to pay increased rates. These exceptions place the burden of paying property tax onto a shrinking base of property owners.
The passage of this legislation would have been a good start to slowing the increase of property taxes. But it should only be viewed as a temporary solution.
In order to have true reform and property tax reduction, we must address the problem at its source. Approximately 85% of local property taxes go to Oklahoma’s education system. This money is in addition to approximately 3.5 billion dollars that we appropriate for common and higher ed and does not include the amounts from all other sources such as some federal grants. A report by the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs demonstrates that Oklahoma taxpayers probably spend more than $10,000 per year for each student.
Oklahoma should offer a $4,000 tax credit to those parents who choose to educate their children in the private sector where they can receive a more cost-effective education. This would empower parents with the ability to determine where their children receive an education (one of the most important choices a parent will make), and would save taxpayers thousands of dollars per student. This very practical move could allow dramatic reduction in property taxation and would take a tremendous amount of pressure off the public education system because the schools' case loads would be reduced.
Perhaps this reduction in property tax burden could allow for a restructuring of the property tax so that instead of being paid every year, the tax could be paid when a house was bought or sold.
The reform would also significantly shrink the size of state government in that government would not have nearly the same control of people's lives through the education system. Smaller government is an important value that I believe most Oklahomans share. This is one of the reforms I am committed to supporting in the future as your State Representative and consider the failure of property tax reform to be one of the biggest failures of this legislative session.
If the Legislature does not take action on this reform during the spring session then I believe it is time for the people to seek the reform through an initiative petition effort.