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.