One of the Texas Senate’s top tax champions rightly blasted the Texas House for killing property tax reform.
In a passionate speech to his Senate colleagues, State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) criticized House lawmakers responsible for killing his reform that would have given Texans more control over their skyrocketing property taxes. Bettencourt also criticized House leadership for refusing to negotiate policy differences, for obstructing the legislative process, and for quitting on taxpayers a day early against strong opposition from House conservatives.
The Senate’s version of Senate Bill 1 would have allowed local taxpayers a November vote on excessive city and county tax hikes of four percent or more. A similar standard currently applies to school districts. By empowering voters, Bettencourt struck a fair compromise between money-hungry local governments and the rights of taxpayers who foot the bill.
In contrast, the House watered it down the voter-imposed limit, along with other provisions, and exempted an even larger number of Texans from the bill’s protections.
“Texas homeowners are being taxed out of their homes and businesses,” Bettencourt stated. “[We are left with a House bill that] – to quote my colleague in the House [Rep. Dennis Bonnen] – provides “no meaningful property tax relief.” I know that Texas taxpayers will be, quite frankly, furious with their elected officials for missing an opportunity to provide property tax relief that strikes at the heart of people’s ability to stay in their homes.”
Not only did Bettencourt call out House Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team for dramatically watering down SB 1, he rightly criticized the tyrannical process Straus employed to ultimately kill it. Straus ignored motions by members, refused to allow floor amendments, rejected negotiations with the Senate, and unilaterally made the House leave their job a day early. As a result, no tax reform bill will reach the governor’s desk in 2017.
The House author of the watered down SB 1 – State Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) – previously admitted on he had struck a “deal” with unnamed Straus appointees when he refused to support any amendments to fix the bill.
Bonnen’s version would have allowed a six percent annual tax increase before governments would need voter approval, and did not mandate November elections. Bonnen’s version also denied these weakened protections to the vast majority of Texas taxpayers, including all of his own constituents. His version also excluded important opt-in provisions that were added by the Senate.
In the final days of the waning special session, House conservatives made two efforts to fix Bonnen’s bill. An amendment by Texas Freedom Caucus member State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) was supported by a majority of House Republicans, but was blocked by Straus Republicans and nearly all the Democrats (80-52).
Shockingly, as Bettencourt noted in his speech, Straus then refused to appoint House conferees to negotiate with the Senate and agree to final bill language. Instead, Straus unilaterally ended session a day early amidst objections from House conservatives.
While Bettencourt and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick were ready to discuss policy differences in conference, Straus flat out refused to even participate in any negotiation with the Senate.
“The taxpayers of Texas have demanded real property tax relief,” Bettencourt declared. “Today’s action by the Texas House follows an unfortunate trend…of denying the Senate’s request to appoint conferees [and negotiate our policy differences].”
When Straus unilaterally forced “Sine Die” a day early, he procedurally killed any chance of the two chambers agreeing on a final version of SB 1. After 169 days in Austin, Straus and his liberal Republican allies left the job early, successfully preventing any meaningful property tax reform from reaching the governor’s desk.