It was the taxpayers versus taxpayer-funded lobbyists on Wednesday, as hundreds of Texans swarmed the State Capitol to testify on property tax reform legislation.
In their first hearing of the 86th legislative session, the newly-created Senate Committee on Property Tax met discuss Senate Bill 2, the chamber’s version of a sweeping property tax reform bill introduced during a joint press conference by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen last week.
The committee is led by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), the author of the bill and a longtime advocate for property tax reform.
“As values go up tax rates must come down. This is not rocket science,” said Bettencourt, “The cost of ownership is putting homeownership out of reach for young people.”
State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney), who serves as the committee’s vice-chair, said, “This is really about the ultimate in local control…the taxpayers…the voter. As Governor Abbott noted this is really about giving power to the people.”
On Tuesday, Abbott listed property tax reform as one his emergency items for the legislature during his State of the State address, paving the way for consideration of the bill in committee this week.
“If we are going to keep Texas the economic engine of America, we must rein in a property tax system that punishes families and businesses and prevents younger Texans from achieving their dream of homeownership,” said Abbott.
As filed, the legislation would slow the growth of property taxes by triggering automatic elections for tax increases above 2.5% for large taxing entities and 8% for smaller ones.
While many citizens expressed their disapproval of the exemption for rural areas, State Republican Executive Committeeman Terry Holcomb told Texas Scorecard he was given some assurance after some lawmakers indicated a desire to include a greater number of Texans in the full reduction of the rollback rate.
Bucking the trend of the day, one former local elected official, former Austin City Councilman Ellen Troxclair testified in support of the legislation. Troxclair said legislation like SB 2 could have prevented residents in the city who have been forced to move due to rising property tax burdens. The overwhelming majority of her local colleagues, however, testified against the legislation, trotting many of the same tired threats to cut services used in previous sessions.
While local elected officials and taxpayer-funded lobbyists expectedly lined up to testify against the legislation, citizen taxpayers came out in full force to support the legislature’s efforts.
“This is my third session of testifying on property taxes and my property taxes have gone up $2,000,” conservative activist Mike Openshaw told the committee.
“I’m not going to be able to keep my house at this rate,” he added.
His message became a familiar one, as one-by-one taxpayers came to the front of the room to talk about the effect that out-of-control property taxes are having on real Texans.
After sharing his testimony with the committee, conservative activist Rich DeOtte noted his disappointment that taxpayer money was being used to lobby against the legislation, which would empower taxpayers.
“The halls are filled with people in uniforms, finance directors, city managers…who are all on the taxpayer dime,” he noted, adding that “people like us are here on our own and it’s costing us money to go.”
Taxpayers who testified in favor of the legislation were united that the legislature needed to act immediately and put the law into effect as soon as possible.
House Bill 2, its companion legislation, has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.