Without action in the coming days, most Texans will not see any meaningful property tax relief as a direct result of the legislative session. Instead, Republican members of the Texas House are giving taxpayers yet another study on the property tax levy coupled with a threat to eliminate the school tax in 2022. An influential conservative activist is unimpressed by the move.

JoAnn Fleming, who serves as executive director of Grassroots America – We the People, told Texas Scorecard overburdened taxpayers are tired of studies and promises.

“For the 27 years I’ve been back in Texas, Republicans have studied, made promises, studied, made promises on property tax relief,” said Fleming. “Taxpayers are sick of this lather, rinse, repeat sham. When the legislature has a $10 billion surplus, and Republican leaders cannot figure out how to cut 1 percent in spending and pass property tax reform to provide real property tax relief and eliminate Robin Hood, it’s very clear we have the wrong people in office.”

House Bill 297, which passed 95-46 on Thursday, would require the creation of a “joint interim committee on the elimination of school district maintenance and operations ad valorem taxes.” The M&O property tax makes up the bulk of the property tax burden in Texas. Unless the legislature takes some other action in 2021, HB 297 also sets a statutory expiration of the existing tax on January 1, 2022. 

The committee would study only raising the sales tax as a solution to eliminating the property tax. It does not have the statutory authority to look instead at spending restraint and the use of surplus revenues in eliminating the tax.

”HB 297, if paired with fiscal restraint in budgeting, would sustain our prosperity,” said Kevin Roberts, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, on the bill’s passage.

As Fleming and others have noted, the House has so far ignored proposals this session to exercise spending restraint and use the state’s historic $10 billion surplus to reduce school property tax bills. Even Gov. Greg Abbott has acknowledged the “relief” and reform passed by the House will not permanently cut taxes.

Instead, Abbott and the House GOP leadership pushed a sales tax increase that would simply swap revenue streams funding public education. A study by Legislative Budget Board found most Texans would have experienced an effective tax increase under the proposal. Meanwhile, polling conducted by State Reps. Tony Tinderholt and Kyle Biedermann found Texans did not support increasing the sales tax.

The sales tax swap idea was firmly rejected by the Senate earlier in the week. 

HB 297 will now be sent to the Senate for consideration.

A similar committee—without the expiration threat—was established two years ago to study property taxes in general.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."