My husband and I attended both the Senate and House meetings on Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2.
The Senate hearing was taxpayer-friendly although they had the same order as the House: Invited guests and lobbyists get to speak before the taxpayers. They also get to speak for several minutes—some up to 20 minutes. Taxpayers get to speak for two minutes.
My husband, Rodney, did give testimony at the Senate hearing, and Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s office called him on Tuesday evening encouraging him to come to Austin and speak on the House bill. We were happy to do this because we believe that property tax relief is critical.
On Wednesday, my alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. We drove straight to Austin and registered to speak around 8:00 a.m. The hearing room was filled with lobbyists, city managers, mayors, county judges, and uniformed officers. After the initial introduction to the bill by State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock), he stated that this hearing would be “focused on the taxpayers.”
Sadly, this was far from the truth.
Starting around noon, the onslaught of the lobbyists began. It was grueling and torturous to listen. For seven hours we were forced to listen. There was a coalition of mayors that had the same exact talking points and they were fighting against the taxpayers: “We want to speak ‘on’ the bill. We just can’t survive on a 2.5 percent rollback rate on property tax.”
Property tax at most is 50 percent or less of their revenue. You know why they can’t survive on a rollback rate of 2.5 percent? Because they want to keep their guaranteed 8 percent increases that they have now. They don’t want voter-controlled tax increases. It’s much easier to hide tax hikes in a bond.
I changed my testimony three times as I was sitting there hour after hour.
I have never felt so disrespected by my legislators. It became obvious that the cities and mayors had already spoken to Austin, and it seemed to me they had already hashed out a deal above the 2.5 percent.
This has really made me wonder if my voice matters at all. They didn’t want to hear it. They only gave full attention to the lobbyists, and the citizens had a head nod at 10:00 p.m. that night.
By the way, that’s when Rodney’s name was called. We had already left for our long drive home. Fourteen hours is a little ridiculous to wait to testify. If I had been heard in a timely manner, this is what I would have said:
Voters are long overdue for tax relief. We send our representatives here to speak for us. We are told over and over again that this is a priority. We are promised repeatedly for years that we will have some tax relief. Even now, I am hearing that the 2.5 percent will not happen. It will be more like 4 or 5. This is unacceptable and frustrating. Our cities are threatening to take away homestead and senior exemptions if property tax reform passes.
Even worse: threatening to lay off fire and police officers. Really? Cutting off essential services is the city’s first choice when they are faced with prioritizing spending? That’s like me not paying my electric bill and mortgage but keeping my Mercedes car, my country club membership, and my $2,000 cell phone.
Why do I have to be penalized by higher taxes because the city entered into bad collective bargaining deals?
And let’s talk about the appraisal process: we are taxed at 100 percent of market value on our property, but anyone that has ever sold real estate knows there is a 6 to 10-percent cost to the seller. I should not be taxed on full market value.
And how is it right for my city to use taxpayer-funded lobbyists to come here and speak against me? When will our representative government start representing the people instead of special interest? We elected you to work for us. We expect you to protect us from the government bureaucracy, not help them use me as a human ATM.
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