In an interview with a West Texas radio show host Tuesday morning, the chairman of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus, State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (Houston), cast significant shade on a recent proposal by state leaders to increase the state’s sales tax.
“I don’t really see a tremendous appetite here in the Senate for that proposal,” said Bettencourt. “Because, you know, the first thing that economic conservatives would immediately want to know is, ‘Is every dollar gonna go for tax relief?’ and I haven’t heard that yet.”
Having already allocated the state’s record surplus, the lion’s share of which is currently slated to fund increases in education spending, lawmakers are scrambling to find ways to deliver on the promise of property tax relief.
With the session now over two-thirds of the way complete and little being offered to voters heading into the 2020 election cycle, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen last week announced their support for a 1-cent increase in the state’s sales tax in order to provide some form of property tax relief.
However, conservatives have been hesitant to embrace the idea, with little assurance that the proposal or exact bill being endorsed by the state’s three biggest leaders would be a dollar-for-dollar swap for relief and not for funding future government growth.
Abbott has been on several radio programs of his own since the concept was introduced last week, touting it as a quality option for lawmakers to consider that would lead to property tax relief. Be that as it may, the governor has further indicated that a swap would need to come in addition to reforms found in bills like Senate Bill 2, working in concert to give taxpayers more complete protection from further growth in appraisals and increases in tax rates.
The exchange between KFYO Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty and Bettencourt shows that not all Republican legislators are on board with the proposal. In fact, most Republicans in the Capitol have been reluctant to offer any comment on the bill at all. Bettencourt though, did offer some insight to what he perceived to be the temperature of the measure in the Senate Republican Caucus, in addition to his personal position on the bill, with Hasty. Their remarks were as follows:
Hasty: “When it comes to this idea of a sale tax increase that’s been floated by the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker … obviously, with the Texas Senate moving yesterday, are you in favor of that idea … of a sales tax increase, if language is similar to the bill y’all were able to pass yesterday … if that moves forward?”
Bettencourt: “Chad, we’ve got $2.7 billion of money already in the budget allocated, I’m gonna hear a more complicated version of the bill we passed yesterday today. On the school tax savings side, that’s really where all these bills impact the state. And I don’t really see a tremendous appetite here in the Senate for that proposal because, you know, the first thing that economic conservatives would immediately want to know is, ‘Is every dollar gonna go for tax relief?’ and I haven’t heard that yet. So, you know, look … I will tell you this: Whether it’s income tax, property tax, or … sales tax, or whatever tax, I’m not voting for an increase.”
Hasty: “So a sales tax increase, as far as you know, in the Texas Senate is not very popular right now?”
Bettencourt: “No, right now it’s not because, again, we’re having to look for … you have to understand, these tax swaps are really what got us into trouble 10 years ago when we swapped out property tax relief for franchise tax; and it turned out to be, you know, net positive on both sides. Now, we’re continuing to try to eliminate the franchise tax, and it’s quite a fight, and I think Chairman Nelson’s got a bill to try to take it down another notch. And, look, one of the best economic conservative guys just up here in the Senate, in my caucus, is Senator [Charles] Perry, and … he’s the one that’s a practicing CPA a lot of people tee off of. You just have to be able to say that any of these swaps are really, really, tax relief and not tax increases, and that’s yet to be determined. So, you just stay tuned, because there’s more to talk about.”
Without the assurance of a dollar-for-dollar, taxpayer “break-even point” included, Bettencourt appears to be signaling the proposal may be up against the wall in the state’s upper chamber.
The audio of Hasty’s full interview with Bettencourt can be found here: