Texas House approves bill requiring an election for property tax growth

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Tuesday, the Texas House approved Senate Bill 2, a property tax reform bill that in part would require taxing entities to hold an election if they take in a larger amount of revenue from property taxes. 

Under the current proposal, SB 2 would require cities and counties to hold an election to get voter approval if the governmental body takes in more than 3.5% in revenue from the year before. The bill would not reduce current property tax bills. Instead, it’s intended to slow the growth. 

Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, said, “What this bill does is it streamlines the process. It also requires a second notice be sent and on that second notice, it directs people to a website to information where they actually can have meaningful understanding and engagement on who is raising their taxes and by how much.”

Inside the Texas House, House staffers displayed a sign outlining how SB 2 would work: how the notices would look, information about who was proposing raising property taxes, by how much, when, and where public hearings would be.

“Could you imagine if half of the 85% of people who showed up to protest their appraised value actually went to town hall to protest their taxes?” Burrows said. “It would be meaningful reform. This bill is designed and intended to do just that.”

The largest opposition of the election requirement, known as the rollback rate, comes from cities and counties who fear to require an election would eat into their budgets and put public safety funds in jeopardy if people vote the increases down. 

Their voice came through in Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, when he said, “In my 16 years representing the people of San Antonio, I’ve yet to meet someone who thinks we have too many police officers protecting our streets. SB2 jeopardizes our cities’ and counties’ ability to keep us safe and to support our men and women in uniform.”

Rep. Roland Guitierrez, D-San Antonio, felt the bill didn’t address some of the needs of his constituents.

“We have people in the inner city of San Antonio in the near west side and the near east side, in Dallas, Houston, Austin that are being priced out, gentrified out of their homes and they’re not asking for transparency,” he said. “They’re asking for lower tax bills and lower appraisals. Not 10%, 10%, 10% year after year after year. When will that happen?”

Most Republican lawmakers say those fears are overblown.

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SB 2 passed the Texas Senate 18 to 13, after the leader of the Texas Senate, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, threatened to use the “nuclear option” and throw out Senate tradition by turning the Senate into majority rule. The House author, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Burrows wrote in the bill that the bill would not take effect without a major school finance overhaul becoming law. 

Property tax reform and school finance reform have been the driving priorities of Governor Greg Abbott, Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. 

Governor Abbott praised the move as it heads towards a larger compromise between lawmakers over school finance. 

“For too long, Texans have watched their property taxes skyrocket while being reduced to tenants of their own property. That is not the Texas way,” Abbott wrote in a release after the House approved SB 2.

The next step is that negotiators from the House and the Senate will work out their differences before final approval. 

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