AUSTIN (KXAN) – During his biannual State of the State address, Texas Governor Greg Abbott focused on issues impacting a broad spectrum of Texas: property tax reform, school finance, teacher pay, school safety, mental health, and disaster response.
The address set the tone for a more bipartisan, nuts-and-bolts legislative session. Session 2019 is very different from the stormy, controversial meeting of lawmakers two years ago when fights erupted on the House floor and a special session needed to be called to continue parts of state government after lawmakers couldn’t agree on bathroom regulations.
During his State of the State address, Abbott laid out his “emergency items” — the policy ideas lawmakers can work on in the first 60 days of the 140-day legislative session. After that 60-day mark, the House and the Senate can begin working on other measures.
The most fought over issue will likely be the ask to reform property taxes. Abbott’s proposal has been matched by identical bills in the House and the Senate that would cause an automatic rollback election if property taxes increase 2.5 percent in a jurisdiction. Right now, after an 8 percent increase, voters can petition for a rollback election — a rare move.
Abbott did not bring up the controversial “non-citizen” voter list Tuesday and did not call on lawmakers to change election law. Such a move would have drawn national attention and the ire of Latino advocacy groups.
Two weeks ago, the Secretary of State released a list to county officials compiled by DPS that claimed 95,000 non-citizens were registered to vote in Texas. Days later, county election administrators found thousands of citizens mistakenly placed on the list. Democrats fear it will cause Republicans to clamp down on voting rights in Texas.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, along with other groups filed a lawsuit Monday against state officials over what they call a “purge list.”
Local control battle ahead
Officials from cities and counties in Texas want the state government to get off their back and scrap their plans of a property tax cap.
According to a county spokesperson, if this property tax cap was in effect last year in Travis County, homeowners would have saved $33 but the government would have lost $19 million.
“Where is the money going to be coming from? So you have to rob Peter to pay Paul,” said Travis County Constable Carlos Lopez.
His office is the law enforcement arm of the court: serving court orders, child support summons, domestic violence protective orders, and evictions.
He says he’s worried about capping county revenue.
“We’re going to have to start cutting these services back. The community is going to suffer as a result,” said Lopez, joining cities and counties to protest the idea at a Tuesday press conference.
They face a unified effort by Republican leaders this session. Governor Abbott Tuesday used the bully pulpit to keep it front and center.
“We can no longer sit idly by while property tax payers are reduced to tenants of their own property,” said Abbott in his State of the State.
Currently, if property tax collections go up 8 percent from the year before, Texans can gather signatures to ask for an election to rollback the increase. The Republican proposal would lower that 8 percent to 2.5 percent and make the election automatic at that trigger point.