One member of the Texas Legislature delivered significant property tax reform and stood resolute against a massive tax hike. He is the taxpayers’ most valuable player in what was ultimately a pale purple legislative session.

  • Houston Republican Paul Bettencourt is known by many as “the tax man.” Might seem like an insult. It’s not. The two-term senator understands property taxes, the system, and the often deleterious effects of both on real people like no one else.
  • Bettencourt served for several years as Harris County’s tax assessor-collector. In that role, he gained statewide recognition for promoting pro-taxpayer reforms. He has also been a long-time radio talk show host, where his self-deprecating humor and encyclopedic memory of politics entertains and informs.
  • For as long as I have known Sen. Bettencourt, he has railed against the property tax system and the way it is weighted against the taxpayer. Session after session, he has pushed incremental reforms designed to better balance the scales for the taxpayer.
  • It came as no surprise when Bettencourt was tapped to lead a select committee two years ago studying ways to significantly reform the system. He embraced the task with gusto – traveling the state to hold hearings in which citizens got to share their stories of abuse at the hands of appraisal districts and greedy taxing entities.
  • The result of those hearings was his authoring of Senate Bill 2, perhaps the best bill to emerge from the legislative session. It put a strict cap on the revenues taxing entities can take from properties – residential and commercial alike – while providing new protections for taxpayers.
  • It is undeniably true that without Paul Bettencourt, Senate Bill 2 would simply not have happened.
  • Which is why it was shocking to see Bettencourt wasn’t even invited to attend the SB 2 bill signing ceremony last week. A shock, but probably not unexpected.
  • That’s because of the other reason Bettencourt is the session’s MVP. After failing to lead on any any conservative reforms, Gov. Greg Abbott emerged more than halfway through the legislative session with a reckless, half-baked idea to increase taxes on Texans. He wrangled Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen into supporting the misguided effort.
  • This is the same Greg Abbott who has refused to cut spending at the state level and has actually increased the amount of corporate welfare doled out by his office. The same Greg Abbott who has promoted expensive Democrat  initiatives, like tax-funded all-day pre-K which study after study show to be without educational merit.
  • Reacting to the realization that Texans really want property tax relief, but unwilling to cut spending to provide, Abbott was suddenly pushing a sales tax hike. The problem, of course, is that no one believes in the sales tax swap fairy. Texans have seen this bait-and-switch game before. We were told that adopting a lottery would solve public education financing woes. Lawmakers adopted a grotesque and inefficient tax on businesses to provide property tax relief. Yet property taxes have continued to skyrocket.
  • The Abbott Tax Hike would have been just one more entry in the list of failed efforts to cut taxes by raising taxes. And everyone knew it.
  • Polling conducted by several state GOP lawmakers found Texans strongly opposed the Abbott Tax Hike.
  • However, it took Paul Bettencourt publicly proposing alternatives before the rest of the Republicans found the courage to go on the record opposing it. Bettencourt pointed out in a Senate hearing on the proposal that the state wasn’t suffering from a revenue shortage, that the dollars existed to significantly and meaningfully cut taxes. The tax hike was removed from a Senate bill; the House version was dropped from the floor calendar.
  • Abbott fumed. Patrick fumed. Bonnen fumed. But thanks to Bettencourt, taxpayers were protected.
  • Because Abbott couldn’t hike taxes on Texans, he decided not to invite Bettencourt to the signing of Bettencourt’s Senate Bill 2. That says a lot about the governor.
  • As for Bettencourt, he took the slight in stride: “The clear winners here are the taxpayers of Texas. I am proud of the work I did on their behalf as the Author of Senate Bill 2.”
  • Paul Bettencourt tends to embody the words of a plaque Ronald Reagan kept on his desk: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”

This first appeared in the Texas Minute on Monday, June 17, 2019. Get it for free every weekday morning.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."