Harris County tax increase fails to pass after elopement of Republican commissioners

At Harris County Commissioner's Court, Republicans won a rare victory with a very strategic "retreat."

In Texas, to raise county property tax rates, four of five commissioners must be present for the vote.

 The law offered a formula for stalemate - two empty chairs equaled $220 million fewer dollars local property owners would be compelled to pay.

With the elopement of commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle, Judge Lina Hidalgo lacked the quorum necessary to push through an 8-percent increase in the tax rate (Republicans insist it is higher) before a state mandated October 11 deadline.

"We knew that this was a chance at a political stunt for them, and we haven't found any work around right now so really, it puts the County in a very dangerous position," said Hidalgo.

Hidalgo and allies on the court had proposed raising the tax rate 2.26 cents for every $100 dollars-worth of property - a levy that in combination with increased valuations would have added an estimated $118 to the annual tax bill of the average homeowner, without requiring a countywide vote.

Today Commissioner Adrian Garcia called the proposed increase "modest" and the Republican elopement "irresponsible".

"I don't know why you would work to hurt the growth and progress of our County, rather than to nurture it," said Garcia.

Judge Hidalgo contends the tax increase is necessary to compensate for a new state law set to take effect January 1st limiting local governments to 3.5 percent annual hike, without going to voters for permission.

"I am absolutely fearful this will cause cuts because our county will continue to grow," said Hidalgo.

Speaking to FOX 26 by phone from an undisclosed location, Commissioner Jack Cagle said his calculated absence was in the best interest of his constituents.

"I think this is an unfair, unjust, and unjustified tax at this time, so I have decided to utilize Texas law and not be there and vote with my feet," said Cagle.

While the proposed rate hike drew vocal support from those advocating improved healthcare, environmental regulation and child care, opponents insisted the added financial burden should be the people's choice, not the politicians. 

"If this tax rate hike is the right thing to do, why are you afraid of going to the voters?" said Paul Simpson, Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party.

Without a quorum and no vote on proposed hike, the County must now adopt the so-called "effective tax rate."

Analysts say property owners who experienced increased valuations will likely pay modestly more, but far less than the proposed increase that was sidetracked today.