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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been implementing a change in tactics and recently released a concrete plan on property tax reform for legislators to consider when they return to Austin in January. But that alone isn’t enough to convince some conservative leaders to ditch their cautious optimism or outright skepticism regarding the future of any form of meaningful relief for Texas taxpayers.

“No. 1 priority,” says Wes Brumit, a long-time Republican activist from East Texas. He told Texas Scorecard that property tax reform has been at the top of conservative voters’ wish lists for years, but noted they’ve received little in way of actual, tangible relief.

Legislators would be hard-pressed to find a Republican more in tune with the sentiments of grassroots citizens. Brumit has been a delegate to seven Republican Party of Texas State Conventions (serving on the party’s Rules Committee for two) and the 2016 Republican National Convention; he has also previously been elected as the chair of the Harrison County Republican Party. He also runs the Facebook group “East Texas Legislative Watch,” which keeps an eye on the work of lawmakers in Austin for their constituents.

“Along with finding an equitable solution to school finance reform, Texans need property tax relief, and we will not be able to do one without the other,” he continued.

Consensus seems to be forming around this idea. With such a significant portion of Texans’ total property tax bill stemming from the spending of school districts, it’s easy to see why they would be coupled up with one another so frequently. When asked if he thought Texans would see meaningful relief following the conclusion of the next session, Brumit was on the cautiously optimistic side of the coin.

“I’m hopeful it will,” he said. “It’s the No. 1 priority for the Texas GOP, and Bonnen has said the priorities of the [Republican Party of Texas] are his priorities.”

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R–Angleton), who will presumably become speaker of the Texas House in January, has recently announced two parliamentarians and a policy team but has afforded Texans few hints at the kind of Texas House he will oversee.

“I would like to see the House move faster so that time doesn’t run out to get true property tax reform,” said Brumit.

Bonnen mentioned school finance and property tax reform were priorities for his chamber at an East Texas meet-and-greet hosted by State Reps. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) and Cole Hefner (R–Mineola), but stopped short of providing specifics.

“Whether it will be within the same bill or not, I couldn’t tell you. But school finance and property tax reform and relief are all tied together,” Bonnen said after the event, continuing, “You really can’t do one without the other, and the truth is Texans desperately need an improvement on their property tax situation.”

“We need to hold him to that,” Brumit concluded.

The message has reverberated for over a decade, and the process has been reformed many times; however, many argue the problem has spiraled out of control in recent years, with State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) telling Texas Scorecard last week the property tax bill homeowners can expect to receive this year may be the worst in modern history. Republican politicians making headlines talking publicly about the problem to close out the year, though, has only further frustrated some within Republican ranks.

Fred McCarty, a board member of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, says their members are more skeptical about that objective being accomplished. He suggested Republican leaders’ inability to deliver on critical campaign promises in years past has worn away what was once a stronger sense of admiration for those towards the top of the ticket.

“The Republicans have had complete control of the state legislature for years. In most of that time, they’ve held huge majorities, even super-majorities,” he said. “There was huge support for Abbott to act on property tax reform last session. He could have led the charge and been a hero, but we got very little out of him.”

Abbott may be on the clock now to deliver on conservative reforms like property tax relief for all Texans, with consideration to how Tarrant County may be shading purple. Campaign consultants on both sides of the aisle have long recognized that Tarrant, the state’s third-largest county, is key to electoral success for Democrat statewide hopefuls.

“Support for Republicans is waning in Tarrant County because they never deliver anything but excuses,” said McCarty. “Abbott better decide if he wants to fight the entrenched swamp in Austin or if he wants to be the last Republican governor in Texas. With Tarrant turning purple in the last election, that’s a very real possibility.”

With skyrocketing property taxes affecting Texans of all political stripes, it has the potential to be the defining political victory for Republicans to deliver on if they intend to keep Texas bright red. After the $80 million O’Rourke campaign resulted in the closer than expected re-election of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) last month, Republicans are already cautiously preparing for a 2020 challenge to the other Senate post.

Without a victory for Republicans expected to come out of Washington now that Democrats control the House of Representatives, it may be up to Abbott and the Texas Legislature to carry the 2020 Republican ticket.

“We need property tax reform!” McCarty concluded. But to many grassroots leaders across the state, the hollow shell of “relief” in name only, and without any measurable property tax relief being afforded after attempts at reform, may not be an accomplishment strong enough to predict future political promise for Republicans like Abbott.

This is the third of a three-part series by Destin Sensky. You can read the rest at TexasScorecard.com.


RECAPPING THE FIGHT…

Freshman State Sen. Paul Bettencourt introduces SB 182

November 13, 2014

SB 182 would serve as a framework for property tax reform for next several years, including automatic rollback elections and reducing the rollback rate from 8% to 4%.

Read more

SB 182 by Bettencourt Heard in Committee, Left Pending

April 9, 2015

The Comptroller was unable to determine the fiscal impact of the legislation, indicating widespread instances of localities adopting tax rates above their rollback rate.

Read more

Texas Constitution Amended to Increase Homestead Exemption

November 3, 2015

Voters approve an increase in the school district homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000.

Read more

Among No-Income Tax States, Texas Has the Highest Property Taxes

August 25, 2016

“Lawmakers and local officials often claim Texas has outrageously high property taxes because taxpayers don’t pay a personal income tax. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Read more

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt files SB 2

November 29, 2016

Given a low bill number to indicate priority status, the bill provided for automatic rollback elections and lowered rollback rate from 8% to 5%.

Read more

SB 2 Voted Out of Senate Finance Committee

March 16, 2017

Reported favorably by a vote of 9-5.

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SB 2 Passes Out of Senate, Sent to House

March 21, 2017

State Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo was the only Republican to vote against the landmark property tax reform bill.

Read more

House Refers SB 2 to Committee 28 Days After Receiving from Senate

April 19, 2017

Stall tactics are used by House leadership in an attempt to kill the bill by intentionally running out of time later in session.

Read more

House Ways & Means Hears SB 2 in Committee

May 10, 2017

The bill sat in committee for nearly a month before it was finally given a public hearing.

Read more

Freedom Caucus Conducts “Mothers Day Massacre” to Force Votes on Conservative Bills

May 11, 2017

The net effect placed negotiating leverage in the hands of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Read more

Patrick Demands House Pass SB 2, Other Conservative Reforms or Face Special Session

May 17, 2017

“The people don’t care how many sessions it takes for us to go home,” said Patrick. “They care whether they can stay in their homes.”

Read more

SB 2 Killed in House with Procedural Gamesmanship

May 18, 2017

SB 2 was placed on the House calendar before being withdrawn due to the threat of a point of order.The bill was referred back to committee to address the issue. The bill was never re-scheduled for a vote by the Calendars Committee.

Read more

Speaker Straus Announces House Won’t Work with Senate on Key Reforms

May 26, 2017

“Property taxes and privacy are two issues we must pass. And if not, we will be in a special session,” said Patrick.

Read more

Legislature Adjourns Sine Die Without Meaningful Property Tax Reform

May 29, 2017

Failure to pass property tax reform sets up Senate to force special session by withholding bills re-authorizing certain state agencies.

Read more

Gov. Abbott Officially Calls Special Session, Sets Property Tax Reform as 1 of 19 Priority Items

June 6, 2017

“Texans need property tax reform right now. I’m calling on the legislature to pass SB2, with the rate rollback provision, or pass a better law,” said Abbott.

Read more

Speaker Straus Calls Gov. Abbott’s Special Session Agenda “Horse Manure”

June 15, 2017

Speaking to the Texas Association of School Boards, Straus opened his remarks on the special session with a joke about a boy excited by “a room full of horse manure.”

Read more

85th Legislature Officially Gavels In for First Special Session

July 18, 2017

Property tax reform and relief is at the top of Gov. Abbott’s list of priorities for lawmakers.

Read more

State Sen. Bettencourt files SB 1, Property Tax Reform Bill

July 18, 2017

Similar to SB 2 filed in the regular session, the bill would set rollback rates to 4% (from 8%) and require automatic elections for voters to ratify increases above the new rate.

Read more

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen files HB 4, the House Version of Property Tax Reform

July 19, 2017

A weaker version of reform than SB 2, HB 4 only lowered the rollback rate to 6% and excluded entities that generate less than $25 million in revenue per year (subjecting only the largest 57 counties and 38 largest cities to the new law).

Read more

Texas Municipal League Opposes Property Tax Reform in Hearing

July 22, 2017

Texas Municipal League, and their government lobbying counterpart Texas Association of Counties, constitute the strongest opposition to property tax reform and relief.

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Texas Senate Passes SB 1, Sends to the House

July 26, 2017

House Passes a Weakened SB 1, Requiring Conference Committee

August 14, 2017

House version of the bill increases the rollback rate to 6%, removes automatic elections for certain entities, and eliminates some entities altogether.

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Senate Requests Appointment of Conference Committee on SB 1

August 14, 2017

Senate makes late-night formal request of an appointment of a conference committee to come to a last-minute agreement on the bill before the end of the special session.

Read more

House Adjourns Sine Die a Day Early Without Appointing Conferees

August 15, 2017

The move forces the Senate into a “take it or leave it” position on the weak property tax bill.

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State Sen. Bettencourt Condemns House Leadership for Killing Property Tax Reform

August 15, 2017

“I know that Texas taxpayers will be, quite frankly, furious with their elected officials for missing an opportunity to provide property tax relief that strikes at the heart of people’s ability to stay in their homes.”

Read more

Speaker Straus Announces Retirement

October 25, 2017

Straus announces he will not seek re-election to the Texas House, ending his tenure as speaker.

Read more

Gov. Abbott Releases Comprehensive Property Tax Reform Proposal

January 16, 2018

His plan would lower the rollback rate to 2.5%, requiring increases above that threshold win the support of two-thirds of the local taxing entity’s governing body and a majority of voters before it can take effect.

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Texas Commission on Public School Finance Conducts First Meeting

January 23, 2018

The commission was charged with studying the methods by which the state funds public education prior to the next legislative session and then making recommendations to lawmakers.

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“Both Parties Agree on Key Property Tax Reforms”

August 7, 2018

“With Democrats and Republicans agreeing on ending both “Robin Hood” and property tax carve-outs, Texas lawmakers have no excuse for failing to act in 2019.”

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TPPF Announces Proposal for Meaningful Relief

September 25, 2018

“Our plan is simple: State and local governments would limit spending such that state revenue permanently replaces the school M&O property tax within about 11 years.”

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GOP Election Losses Highlight Urgency of Reform

November 6, 2018

With lawmakers already anticipating a surplus of state revenue at their disposal from the recent economic upturn, Republicans may have their hands full when dealing with a Democratic Caucus emboldened by gains in both chambers.

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State Rep. Dennis Bonnen Becomes Presumptive Speaker of the House

November 12, 2018

Bonnen announces he has secured pledges from enough members to reach the number of votes necessary to become the next Speaker of the Texas House.

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Abbott Ramps Up Rhetoric on Property Tax Reform

December 5, 2018

In a tweet, Gov. Greg Abbott doubled down on calls for legislators to tackle Texas’ skyrocketing property tax problem, calling out local officials opposed to reforms.

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Commission on Public School Finance Publishes Report for Legislators

December 19, 2018

The report recommends boosting spending in public education, increasing teacher pay, ending the current “Robin Hood” mechanism of wealth redistribution, and providing property tax relief for Texans.

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Grassroots Texans: Republican Lawmakers Must Deliver Property Tax Relief

December 19, 2018

Grassroots leaders from across the Lone Star State warn of dire election prospects for Republicans if they fail to deliver real property tax relief.

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