Wednesday the Texas House is scheduled to begin debate on the issue most important to Texans—property tax reform. Unless, of course, House leaders decide to delay it again, as they’ve already done twice previously.
But let’s assume for a moment that lawmakers don’t kick the can down the road again and actually deliberate the measure. Before they pass it, they’ll need to make some significant changes.
As originally filed, House Bill 2 would have protected taxpayers from rampant tax increases by capping the amount that local governments can raise tax burdens without first obtaining voter consent at the ballot box by 2.5 percent.
In its original form, the legislation included every taxing jurisdiction in the state, from cities to counties to public school districts to special purpose districts. The concept was so popular it secured the support of the “Big Three”—Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
And it was the same version that was jointly filed by House Ways and Means Chairman Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock) and Senate Property Tax Committee Chairman Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) at the beginning of the legislative session.
But that version of the legislation won’t be the item on the floor tomorrow.
While the name is the same, many of the reforms in HB 2 have been hollowed out. Indeed, the largest item on a Texas taxpayer’s property tax bill—their school district maintenance and operation tax—was removed in the dead of night by Burrows.
This contrasts with the actions on the other side of the Capitol.
In the Texas Senate, Bettencourt did increase the rate by which cities and counties can raise taxes without voter approval to 3.5 percent; however, he and other Republican lawmakers kept school districts in at 2.5 percent, successfully fighting off Democrat attempts to remove them and otherwise weaken the bill.
The Senate passed their version, SB 2, last week on a 18-13 vote.
If Republican lawmakers are serious about protecting Texans from rampant tax increases, they will support efforts to insert school districts back into the bill and reimplement other measures to strengthen the protections for taxpayers.
Simply kicking a weaker bill over to the Texas Senate is unacceptable for taxpayers who expect the Texas Legislature members closest to them to voice their concerns and protect their best interests and pocket books; these members promised as much when they were elected last year in March and November.
Now is the time for the Texas House to honor their word and deliver on meaningful and lasting relief from skyrocketing, burdensome property taxes that have continued to plague the citizens of our state—and have even forced homeowners out due to government run amuck.