While Republican lawmakers are advancing legislation to grant Texans a greater say in property tax rates, Texas House Democrats are pushing a plan to move Texas in the opposite direction by granting school districts the ability to raise taxes without voter approval. The contrast is yet another example of what’s at stake in Texas if Democrats win a majority in 2020.
House Bill 959 by Dallas County Democrat State Rep. Julie Johnson and House Bill 864 by State Rep. John Bucy (D–Cedar Park) would allow for school districts to create a “tax window” within which they could vary their rate up or down without getting voter approval.
Both bills largely mirror legislation filed in previous years by State Reps. Donna Howard (D–Austin) and Gary VanDeaver (R–Texarkana).
Though it will likely be pitched as a way to allow school districts to more easily adjust their rates downward, in practice it would actually allow districts to bust the rollback rate without voter approval. With rising property values, even if a taxing entity kept its tax rate the same, tax bills could be raised dramatically in any given year.
That fact that the new policy could lead to higher taxes was acknowledged in the fiscal note attached to the bill in 2017.
“The proposed new procedure could result in higher tax rates in some instances,” read the Legislative Budget Board’s analysis.
However, despite the LBB’s warning, and a majority of Republican lawmakers voting against it, the legislation passed the House in 2017. (Thankfully after taxpayers raised the alarm and alerted their state senators it died in the Texas Senate.)
But Johnson’s version of the legislation is even worse than the 2017 version.
The 2017 version granted higher rollback rates to ISD’s that had both met or exceeded their “rollback” or voter-approval rate in the past 10 years and, at some point, went below the rollback in the last 10 years.
The new version is even worse. In practice it allows any school board that has exceeded the voter-approval rate in the last 10 years to jack up the rate at current without first securing voter approval.
If you find that confusing you’re not alone. Texas’ property tax system is horrendously arcane and complex.
And that’s why taxpayers need the commonsense reforms pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and other Republican legislators that would give local voters a say on annual tax increases of 2.5 percent or higher.
Texas should be empowering local taxpayers with greater authority over the rates they pay, not decreasing their authority over them.
State Rep. Julie Johnson
State Rep. John Bucy