Community colleges in Texas have warned students and their surrounding communities that they might consider increasing tuition if the Texas Legislature property tax proposal is approved.
The proposed legislation would halt the increase of property tax revenue throughout the state, which consists of an average of 40 percent of community colleges’ funding, an association that represents the schools said. Meanwhile, the share of state support for the schools has dropped from 66 percent in the 1980s to almost 23 percent today.
“Community colleges are alarmed,” said San Jacinto College chancellor Brenda Hellyer. While she understands the need for property tax reform, she said, “The concern is you’ve got two revenue sources — your state revenue source is pretty much capped. And now, if you put a very tight cap on your property taxes, what can you do other than increase tuition and fees or cut your services?”
The proposal would require taxing units to receive voter approval before raising property tax revenue by 2.5 percent higher than the previous year, according to the Texas Tribune. The proposed legislation would also apply to municipalities and special districts for community colleges and hospitals and possibly school districts.
Supporters of the proposal said the legislation could give relief to taxpayers and would make the property tax system more comprehensible and translucent, and wouldn’t limit districts’ ability to increase property tax revenue. It would just require the districts to receive voter approval first.
Those who oppose the legislation said it could prevent municipal officials’ ability to provide public services or decrease bond ratings for cities. As the proposal currently stands, it could have a higher impact on the state’s 50 community college districts that overall charge one of the lowest average tuition rates in the U.S.
From 2013 to 2017, 94 percent of the college districts, or 47 out of 50, had their property tax revenue increase over 2.5 percent in at least one year. Thirty-one of those schools would have surpassed the point in at least three of the five years, according to data from the Texas Association of Community Colleges. Thirty of the community college districts exceeded 2.5 percent revenue growth in 2017.
Texas Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said community colleges are typically “well thought of” and could receive voters’ approval to move past the 2.5 percent trigger suggested in this year’s bills.
If college officials “had a good pitch, I think people would support them,” he said.