A Study to Describe the Opinions and Attitudes on Tax Abatements from County Judges in Texas
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One primary goal of economic development programs is to help communities attract or retain businesses considered vital for economic stability. Many state and local governments offer tax abatements as a major form of economic development policy. Tax abatements exempt taxpayers from taxes for a designated time period and can include the entire amount or a partial amount owed. Offering tax abatements is logical since property returned to tax rolls generates income for local taxing entities. Because local government officials are hesitant to raise taxes or cut services, they frequently examine ways to expand their taxing jurisdiction's tax bases by recruiting new businesses. Professional literature assesses current economic development programs, such as economic incentives and tax abatements. Unlike the careful analyses performed on whether tax abatements enhance economic development, few studies have chronicled and analyzed attitudes and opinions of officials making decisions. The purpose of this research project is to: (1) examine economic development policies, but more specifically property tax abatements and (2) to describe Texas county judges' attitudes and opinions about tax abatement decisions. Texas county judges are a crucial component of the process since they decide tax abatement issues. This report is designed to close some gaps in the literature of state and local government officials opinions on tax abatements. A self-administered questionnaire was used to survey Texas county judges. Sixty judges were selected from 254 Texas counties based up the population of the jurisdictions in which they serve. The represent counties with the largest populations and were selected non-randomly because larger counties are more likely to offer tax abatements than smaller counties. Simple descriptive statistical analyses were used to quantify the survey responses. The frequency, percentage, and mode of each question was calculated. The mode determined the respondents' overall perception for each statement. Most scholarly literature on economic development policies includes three main areas: economic factors, political factors, and locational factors. Economic factors address with the financial reasons abatements are offered. Political factors include local government's decisions on whether to offer tax abatements, to whom abatements should be offered, and what amounts are abated. Political factors also deal with the public's approval of those elected officials deciding whether or not to offer abatements. Finally, locational factors deal with local government's struggles to maintain, expand, or recruit new business. This survey of Texas county judges indicates that officials in positions to offer abatements are aware of ramifications brought by such decisions. Most opinions expressed by the judges are corroborated in current literature. Officials feel compelled to offer incentives to expand tax bases, and do so in large part, because of political and economic advantages. Officials agree abatements do not erode tax bases; however, they also understand that more effective and less costly economic development tools are available. This research project is not conclusive; however, it does provide insight into some of the economic, political, and locational factors affecting Texas county judges opinions on tax abatement issues.