Politics

Harris County budget, property tax discussions stall as GOP commissioners again boycott tax vote

Without four of the five Harris County Commissioners present, the court can’t vote on the proposed property tax rate for fiscal year 2023, which starts October 1.

Screenshot, Commissioners Court Livestream
Republican County Commissioners Tom Ramsey and Jack Cagle skipped Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, preventing Democrats from reaching the quorum needed to vote on their proposed property tax rate.

Harris County Republican Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey continued to boycott the county's property tax rate vote Tuesday, preventing the court’s Democratic majority from having the necessary quorum to vote on the issue.

The Democrat commissioners are proposing a modest tax cut, but by not showing up to the vote the Republican commissioners are hoping to force a deeper property tax cut. Without at least four of the five commissioners present to vote, a state law is triggered that requires the county's tax rate to revert to a "no new revenue rate," which is lower than what the Democrats are proposing.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the deeper tax cut would lead to a smaller county budget with cuts across county departments and services in the next fiscal year, which begins October 1.

"If we don't adopt this item, and we're not able to adopt it if one of the two chairs here are not filled, then our hospital system will operate at a $45 million deficit," she said.

Hidalgo said other cuts would include a canceled cadet class and stalled flood control projects.

Hidalgo said they are working with the county attorney’s office to see what options they have moving forward and whether they can compel the Republican commissioners to attend the vote.

Cagle and Ramsey skipped the previous Commissioners Court on September 13, causing the Democrats to pass a slashed budget for fiscal year 2023. The reduced budget cuts $106 million from what the Democrats had originally proposed. However, the commissioners have until October 28 to approve the proposed tax rate, at which point the higher county budget could go into effect.

"There will be pain starting Oct 1," said David Berry, the Harris County Administrator and Budget Officer. "That will deepen if there's no resolution by October 28."

Cagle and Ramsey have defended their decision by saying residents are already burdened with inflation.

"Now is not the time for local government to take advantage of inflated property appraisals to pay for an expanded government footprint. Now is when we should be fighting alongside taxpayers to help them dig out from under the rubble," Cagle said previously.