The battle between the two chambers of the Texas Legislature escalated late last week when State Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) launched yet another attack on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The two have been publicly trading barbs over tax relief policy in a dispute that has come to define much of the legislative session.
Led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Texas Senate has pushed for property tax relief— an issue that according to a recent poll, a majority (54%) of Texans support. In March, a bipartisan majority in the Senate passed SB 1, which would double the homestead exemption. Unlike previous relief that has been whittled away by property tax and appraisal increases, the Senate’s plan would provide lasting relief by pegging the exemption to 25% of the state’s median home value. Additional legislation by State Sens. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would make it harder for localities to raise taxes.
Before his own tax relief plan had even been heard in his own committee, Ways and Means Chairman Bonnen took to the liberal Quorum Report to blast Patrick and the Senate’s support of property tax relief:
“Proposed property tax cuts are a short-term sugar high with no long-term benefits,” said Bonnen.
Patrick fired back quickly, saying that Bonnen’s proposal was “out of step with Texans, my office, the Senate and the Governor.”
It was there the battle began, with Patrick and Bonnen exchanging barbs in the press almost daily. In the next few weeks Bonnen and the Texas House passed HB 31, which instead stipulates a 0.5% cut in the sales tax rate. The majority of the House signed an open letter articulating their support for the measure.
In trumpeting the sales tax cut, Bonnen has advanced false analogies of previous property tax cuts that evaporated due to increased appraisals and rate increases. However, such comparisons are not entirely honest given the differences between past reforms and the Senate’s plan this session. Recently, Bonnen abandoned such rhetoric by shifting to the issue of border security to attack Patrick and the Senate, accusing the upper chamber of holding the issue “hostage.”
“The No. 1 issue in the state is border security and I’d like us to get border security done and then we could talk about how to resolve tax cuts,” he said. “I feel like the Lieutenant Governor wants to use border security as his hostage to force his tax plan…I would think that with border security the No. 1 issue for Texas, the Lieutenant Governor wouldn’t play politics with and use it as leverage for his tax plans.”
Bonnen also fired a broadside at Gov. Greg Abbott on the topic, saying he regretted the fact that Abbott “is not more concerned about getting a border security bill on his desk.”
Given Bonnen’s own admission that the House plan he wrote won’t secure the border, his attacks on the Senate and the Governor lack merit. Upon review, the Senate proposal related to border security has substantially more teeth than its House counterpart. As Lt. Gov. Patrick noted on his Facebook page, the Senate’s plan keeps the National Guard on the border, provides additional funding for DPS, establishes check points, and allocates more resources for border operations than the House proposal.
How can Patrick be characterized as holding border security “hostage” when the plan he successfully championed is both more comprehensive and has been left sitting in the House?
The truth is Patrick isn’t holding conservative reforms “hostage”—rather, it’s Bonnen’s own leader, liberal House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) who is guilty of that. As spotlighted by this publication, Straus has an undisputed record of quietly stamping out conservative legislation. Earlier this session one of Straus’ other lackeys, State Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), dismissed the entire issue of tax relief as a “gimmick.”
Rather than launch flamboyant, misleading attacks fueled by feigned indignation, Bonnen should consider addressing issues in his own chamber. The record clearly shows that so far, the Senate has been more in line with conservative Texans when compared to the House.