U.S. Representative Vicente Gonzalez and his wife defied property tax law for eight years claiming two homestead exemptions
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U.S. Representative Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen and his wife broke property tax law for at least eight years, each claiming homestead exemptions on properties they separately owned.
They fixed the issue last year, when his wife, Lorena Saenz Gonzalez, removed the homestead exemption on his property. But from 2014 to 2021, Hidalgo County records show Vicente Gonzalez claimed a property exemption on property in McAllen valued this year at $527,054, while his wife also claimed one on another property in the city assessed this year at $287,131. This saved them at least $2,300 in property taxes on the second property, according to a Texas Tribune analysis.
In Texas, married couples are generally only eligible for one of these exemptions, which is intended to provide tax relief on properties considered “principal residences.” Homestead exemptions generally cannot be claimed on commercial properties, second homes, or income properties.
Gonzalez said the second property was one his wife owned before they married in 2008 and she forgot to remove the property exemption until last year.
“It was a simple oversight that was voluntarily corrected as soon as she discovered it,” Gonzalez said in a statement.
After the Tribune’s investigation, Gonzalez’s spokesman James Rivera said the congressman had spoken with the county assessor’s office and intended to pay any back taxes owed. .
Gonzalez’s wife removed the homestead exemption from her property in October 2021, a county assessor said.
“We are currently reviewing this matter in greater detail and will do what is legally required by law,” Jorge Gonzalez, deputy chief assessor for the Hidalgo County Assessment District, said in an email.
Gonzalez faces his most competitive run yet in November as he seeks another term in the nationally targeted 34th District, where U.S. Representative Mayra Flores, R-Los Indios, is the incumbent.
A homestead exemption protects a portion of a property’s appraised value from being taxed.
All Texas homeowners have a property exemption on their primary residence that can be applied to their school property tax charge – which typically makes up the largest portion of a local property tax bill. This year, that farm exemption was set at $40,000, after voters in May approved a constitutional amendment increasing the amount. Previously, the exemption was $25,000 for school property taxes dating back to 2015. Before that, it was $15,000.
Some Texans, such as those who are elderly or disabled, are eligible for additional exemptions for homesteads.
The Hidalgo County Homestead Exemption Application tells applicants that they are only eligible if “you and your spouse are not applying for a homestead exemption on another property.” The app warns that anyone who makes a false statement on the app “could be convicted of a Class A misdemeanor or felony in state prison.”
Generally, taxpayers do not have to reapply for the homestead exemption after initially receiving it. But they must notify the assessment district if they move or if their eligibility changes.
Gonzalez is a lawyer in his own firm, while his wife is a former teacher and school administrator in McAllen and Edinburgh.
Gonzalez, who currently represents the 15th congressional district, is in a hotly contested battle for re-election after redistricting prompted him to seek re-election in the neighboring 34th district. Flores became the incumbent there earlier this summer after toppling the seat in a special election that has drawn national attention, including from Republicans looking to make further inroads in South Texas.
The redesigned version of the 34th District that appears on the November ballot is more Democratic-friendly than it was in the special election, but the GOP is hoping Flores can beat the odds.
Property tax experts agreed that the Gonzalez’s situation was problematic, but not unheard of.
“Generally one family, one farm,” said Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, speaking generally about the law.
“Married couples can only claim one homestead exemption, which must be on their primary residence,” said James Quintero of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank. “To do otherwise likely violates the spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law.”
Craymer said the law is “very difficult to enforce,” noting that appraisal is done at the local level in all 254 counties in Texas and “there is no kind of central composite database where appraisers can double-check “.
Homestead’s exemptions have tripped up Texas politicians before. In 2009, then governor. Rick Perry, a Republican, said he would repay $183 in property taxes after media reported he had obtained a homestead exemption on a home near Texas A&M University where his daughter was living while she was going to school.
The issue has also cropped up in the past for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a vocal GOP crusader against property taxes. When he was a radio host in 2005, the Houston Chronicle reported that he had to pay $595 in back taxes after getting breaks at two separate properties in the city’s suburbs.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University, Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Texas Taxpayers and Research Association financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporations. sponsor companies. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.
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