While Texas families are struggling with increased unemployment and lower pay due to the government-mandated economic shutdowns in response to the Chinese coronavirus, some local officials have suggested they may exploit the virus to hike property taxes.

Now, two lawmakers are teaming up to try and ensure it doesn’t happen.

In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed legislation making it harder for taxing entities—such as cities and counties—to increase their property tax revenue above 3.5 percent without voter approval. School districts were capped, in a separate bill, at 2.5 percent.

However, there is already talk amongst some local officials of using the coronavirus to exploit an exemption for disasters that lawmakers included in the bill. If allowed to use the loophole, cities and counties could increase property tax revenue up to 8 percent without voter approval, while taxpayers continue to suffer.

In a radio interview on The Chad Hasty Show, State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock) says he is working with State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), the author of last session’s property tax reform bill. Burrows says they disagree with taxing entities considering using the emergency clause and are pushing back.

“We do not believe that is the spirit of the law … it’s also really, really bad policy,” said Burrows.

Gov. Greg Abbott has said he and Attorney General Ken Paxton disagree with the interpretation from the Texas Municipal League that the exemption applies to the coronavirus situation, instead saying it was meant for events like natural disasters.

To that end, Burrows says he and Bettencourt are considering potential legislation to penalize taxing entities that decide to exploit the loophole.

“He and I have … discussed the idea of a COVID-19 penalty … that if we have cities and counties somehow [getting] away with jacking property taxes way, way up during this time, this 2020 cycle … we should probably come back in 2021 and 2022 and force a lower rate to penalize them for having done that,” said Burrows.

Taxpayers enjoyed a victory last month when the Dallas City Council defeated a motion to begin the process of potentially raising taxes as high as 8 percent from the previous year without voter approval, hopefully serving as a warning to other cities and counties that may attempt to consider similar courses of action.

Brandon Waltens

Brandon serves as the Senior Editor for Texas Scorecard. After managing successful campaigns for top conservative legislators and serving as a Chief of Staff in the Texas Capitol, Brandon moved outside the dome in order to shine a spotlight on conservative victories and establishment corruption in Austin. @bwaltens