TCSA Capitol Update
January 12, 2024
The General Assembly returned this week for the second year of the 113th legislative session. As always, there are opportunities for positive changes and new resources for counties as well as proposals that raise concerns. Throughout January, new legislation will be filed on a daily basis. Even once the bills are filed, we know that some of them are merely placeholders, what we call “caption bills” that open up large parts of state code. We won’t know the details of some proposals until amendments are filed later in session to re-write the legislation before it is presented to committees.
At the association, we will work to keep you informed about initiatives moving through the General Assembly throughout the session, both those we support and those we oppose. Our message to you now is to begin having regular conversations with your Senators and Representatives about what you and they are hearing and to let them know your thoughts and concerns. We know there will be major pieces of legislation related to topics like property tax, school vouchers, public safety and more. Even though we haven’t seen the specific language of proposals, you can start talking about how these initiatives could affect your county.
In particular, we are hearing about two very different proposals related to property tax. One is the Comptroller’s proposal to call for more frequent re-appraisals to keep property values from becoming outdated. This proposal can help reduce or prevent the impact of sales ratios that significantly affected revenue streams for many counties this year. The association voted to support this proposal at the fall conference.
The second proposal is an effort to limit or cap property tax increases. Right now, we don’t know if the sponsors will propose a statutory cap, a requirement for a referendum for property tax increases or some other approach to limit your ability to raise revenue through the property tax. Proponents are correctly arguing that Tennessee is one of only a few states with no limits on local government property taxes. However, despite this lack of statutory limits, we remain one of the lowest tax burden states in the union. We believe you, as the locally elected officials closest to the people, are responsible stewards of this authority and are doing your best to keep taxes in your community low. Every state has a different structure for funding state and local governments and a different way of dividing up funding responsibilities between counties and the state. It is important to understand how those things work together to determine what is best for Tennessee, not how we compare to another state that may do things very differently.
To be effective this year, our message needs to focus not on the tax itself, but what you accomplish with it for your county. Property taxes fund teacher raises, build schools and provide technology to students. They buy trucks and heavy equipment for highway departments and hire the workers who are licensed and trained to operate them. They help us recruit and retain sheriff’s deputies, and other first responders. They fund libraries and election commissions and emergency communications districts. Most of these items I just mentioned fall in some way under a state mandated maintenance of effort requirement, meaning you can’t cut funding for those services even if you wanted to.
Legislators need to understand what the revenue from property taxes means to your community and what will happen if those funds dry up. They need to understand the mandates and responsibilities you are charged with. When you have those conversations back home, even if they are sometimes uncomfortable, it makes our work to represent you in Nashville that much more effective.