Homeowners, city leaders give lawmakers an earful in property tax hearing

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — In the first public hearing for the House attempt to reform the property tax system in Texas, lawmakers got an earful from homeowners and city leaders about the effects of proposed changes.

Discussion of the bill — which lasted more than seven hours — featured mayors and city staff from half a dozen cities across the state, including Amarillo, El Paso, College Station, Buda, Austin and Lubbock.

“We will watch closely because we still want to be able to do what we are charged by our voters and asked to take care of,” Lubbock City Council member Steve Massengale said before the hearing. Some municipal officials are concerned capping revenue growth would stunt their ability to provide services like public safety.

“We really think that our legislators are listening,” said Lubbock City Council member Jeff Griffith. “This takes time to work through. It’s a great initiative, needs to happen, we just need to make sure that the parameters are correct.”

Right now, local governments can raise property tax revenues up to 8 percent. 

The new proposals in both the House and Senate would set the election threshold at 2.5 percent of revenue growth. Gov. Greg Abbott, newly-elected House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick all back the plan.

More than 130 people signed up to testify.

“Each municipality is very different from one another and each county is different from one another,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told lawmakers.

Wednesday’s hearing was a first for Houston homeowner Richard Pendleton, 64. He decided to make the four-hour drive through the fog and traffic to the Capitol because he is worried about rising property tax payments.

“Property taxes have just gone up so much in Houston that i’m concerned that if it continues, I may not be able to stay in the house that I’m in,” said Pendleton, a retired oil and gas worker.

Lawmakers seemed receptive to adjustments to the bill as written.

“The committee is going to try to come up with a bill that is right, not just trying to get something across the finish line as quick as we can,” the bill’s author, Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, said as he laid out the legislation.

“We want to get to the root of the problem and try to provide the best solutions,” said State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

“I want to have a very careful conversation because I don’t want to get behind any policy that’s going to slow our growth, going to cause us to lose jobs, going to make us less competitive in the marketplace to attract the next industry and employer,” Martinez Fischer added.

“Plan for the worst but hope for the best,” Pendleton said.

The Senate version of the property tax reform bill passed out of committee earlier this month and will head to the full Senate when Patrick calls for a vote.

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