Taxpayers had to wait several hours Wednesday before finally being allowed to speak on property tax reform.

Earlier this week, Texas Scorecard received an internal memo the Texas Municipal League had distributed to local officials advising them on how to oppose House Bill 2 at Wednesday’s hearing. The memo stated:

“The House committee is expected to be respectful of city witnesses and will hopefully be more receptive to comments than the Senate committee.”

TML’s expectations may have borne out the way they wanted. The committee didn’t begin hearing testimony on HB 2 until around noon, and poor clock management resulted in lobbyists, local officials, and those invited by the committee receiving an inordinate amount of time to testify. Some local elected officials were given anywhere from 3 to 29 minutes to speak.

Meanwhile, taxpayers who had been waiting since at least 7:00 a.m. that morning didn’t get to speak until around 7:30 p.m.

“We were played,” wrote one taxpayer on Facebook around 8:00 p.m. “There are a lot of people that the word ‘angry’ doesn’t even describe.”

Yvette DeOtte, a taxpayer from Southlake, was frustrated by the lack of time management by the chair and was left with the impression that the hearing was “very anti-taxpayer.”

Northeast Tarrant Tea Party Vice President Fran Rhodes also posted that for hours, taxpayers in the audience had to listen to officials and lobbyists testify and “99 percent of them are against the bill.” She also described the hardship of the average taxpayer who had traveled all the way to Austin on their own dime to let lawmakers know: “we can’t afford to pay our property taxes anymore!”

If passed, HB 2 and its sister bill, Senate Bill 2, would require local voter approval for tax hikes of 2.5 percent or more. Local officials could still raise tax burdens 2.49 percent without voter approval, on top of collecting additional property and other tax revenue from growth. Taxing entities that take in less than $15 million in tax revenues would be exempt.

The problem of late-night hearings, of course, is not unique to this particular hearing. Committees’ hearings on big-ticket items often stretch long into the night, but last night’s hearing underscores the problem with lengthy invited testimony.

This chairmanship is the first for State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock); hopefully, in the future, he will be able to receive advice from others, like State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), on how to improve time management so that taxpayers are heard.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.