After a months-long standoff, legislation to allow taxpayers to have a say on property tax increases has passed in the Texas Senate, with every Democrat member and Republican State Sen. Kel Seliger (Amarillo) opposing the measure.
Senate Bill 2, filed by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), was announced during a joint press conference with House and Senate leaders and Gov. Greg Abbott back in January.
“One thing that we know is that people in the state of Texas expect the Texas legislature to step up and reform property taxes in Texas,” Abbott said at the time. “We will leave this session with meaningful property tax reform.”
Once the bill was passed out of committee, however, the bill’s momentum slowed to a crawl as Democrat members, aided by Seliger, obstructed efforts to bring the bill to the floor for weeks.
On Friday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told members he was willing to dispense with the traditional process of voting on bills outside of the regular order of business, a practice which requires three-fifths of the body’s consent to consider legislation and had bottlenecked SB 2.
Patrick’s threat to follow the chamber’s rules seemed to have worked.
After giving a long-winded soliloquy on “statesmanship,” Seliger, who had his committee chairmanship pulled for lewd comments he made towards a female staffer, reluctantly voted with Republicans to suspend the rules and bring SB 2 to the floor.
“This is the day the taxpayers of Texas have been waiting for,” Bettencourt told his colleagues when beginning his layout of the bill. “We are doing this not just for the Texans that are, but for the Texans that will be.”
Bettencourt pointed out recent reports showing Texas has become one of the highest property tax burdens in the country, behind only Illinois and New Jersey.
The floor substitute of the bill changed the voter-trigger rate from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent for cities, counties, and special taxing districts. School districts—who make up the biggest portion of the average Texans’ tax bill—was left unchanged at an across-the-board 2.5 percent trigger.
This contrasts with the Texas House, where its companion, House Bill 2 by State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock), was gutted, removing special taxing districts and school districts from the 2.5 percent voter approval rate.
“With that large of a portion of the tax bill, we can’t ignore it,” said Bettencourt.
In order to keep school districts included in the scope of the bill, however, Bettencourt said the state would bear a cost of around $2.5 billion during the next biennium, a small amount compared the state’s estimate of nearly $10 billion in surplus revenue.
And though Austin Democrat State Sen. Kirk Watson attempted to strip school districts from the bill, like Burrows did, the amendment failed, as did a slew of Democrat-led amendments designed to weaken the bill.
The bill was ultimately approved on an 18-13 vote, with Seliger joining Democrats in opposition.
Meanwhile, the House has postponed their property tax reform bill yet again, this time to Wednesday, April 24. HB 2 was originally scheduled for House debate last Thursday.