As predicted, the Texas House has proposed a much weaker property tax reform package when compared to the Senate. That should worry Texas taxpayers, considering the Senate’s proposal was weakened prior to its final passage.
Conservative lawmakers want to give taxpayers greater control over their tax bill. So far, only local governments and the obstructionist House Leadership have stood in their way.
The Senate’s reform proposal (SB1) would require cities, counties, and other entities to obtain voter approval for property tax hikes of four percent (or more) per year. The public vote would be automatic and held in November, when voter turnout is higher.
That reform would effectively allow cities and counties to raise property taxes on existing residents by more than 20 percent over five years, without needing voter approval. Currently, limits in state law are much higher, at eight percent, and voters are required to gather petitions in order to force an election.
Despite this reasonable threshold, the Texas House has resisted giving taxpayers more say, siding with local governments who have lobbied hard against any form of taxpayer protection.
The only downside in the Senate’s version was a carve-out that excluded smaller taxing entities from the new voter-approval requirements. Unfortunately, that exemption was expanded prior to the bill’s final passage, although another amendment scheduled elections so that voters within the boundaries of the smaller entities could opt-in to the new protections.
The House, however, has chosen a significantly watered down approach in three key areas.
The threshold for voter approval in HB4 – formally known as the “rollback rate” – has been increased from the 4 percent found in the Senate version, to 6 percent. In other words, the House version would allow notably higher tax increases to be levied before a public vote would be triggered.
The House version also exempts a much larger number of local governments from being subject to the new voter requirements. And while elections for these larger entities would be automatic, the date of the election would be determined by the taxing entity, instead of being held in November.
Rather than pass a wildly popular reform supported by Gov. Abbott, the Texas Senate, and taxpayers from across the state, the Texas House has already begun to cave to pressure from the local government lobby. Again.