AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Top Republicans show no signs of compromising on a plan to lower Texans’ property taxes after Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick reiterated their commitments to their competing plans Tuesday.
As an ongoing special session with only the upper chamber present for business beats on, $17.6 billion hangs in the balance as leaders debate different ideas for how to use an unprecedented surplus for property tax relief.
Abbott directed the legislature to spend all $17.6 billion on lowering school district property tax rates. After the House and Senate failed to reach a deal in the regular session, he called lawmakers to pass a plan to lower property taxes “solely by reducing the school district maximum compressed tax rate.” That strategy, known as compression, simply gives school districts more money in return for lower tax rates.
“Every dollar we spend should go towards that goal so that once and for all we can be known as actually eliminating one of the property taxes in Texas,” the governor said at an unrelated bill signing event Tuesday. “Any time that we use money for an alternative strategy, that’s taking away from a clearly articulated goal that Texans want.”
Abbott implied he would not sign a bill that included an increase to the homestead exemption — that’s the amount of a home’s value that a homeowner can deduct before paying property taxes, and is Patrick’s top priority. He called Abbott’s long-term goal to eliminate school district property taxes through compression “a joke.”
“If you’re going to eliminate all property taxes, you have no money left to do anything,” Patrick told reporters at a press conference Tuesday. “There would be no funding for education, no funding for health care, no funding for law enforcement.”
Patrick shared data from the Legislative Budget Board showing the state would need to make up for more than $73 billion per year in other revenue sources without school district property taxes. Alternate sources of revenue for the state come mostly from sales tax revenue, along with streams coming from the oil production taxes, motor vehicle sales, insurance taxes and more.
Patrick invited Abbott to a “Lincoln-Douglas” style debate about the stalemate. Abbott did not directly address that invitation Tuesday, but implied the negotiations are far from over.
“I will call special session after special session after special session until a solution is reached,” he said.
What are Patrick’s options?
While both the House and Senate operate as separate entities, both chambers have to pass the same legislation as is before it can head to the governor’s desk to become law. Once the House adjourned the first special session sine die — or indefinitely — after passing the property tax bill and border security bill Abbott approved, it left the Senate with few options for a path toward adjournment.
The Senate cannot amend House bills or pass its own bills without the House in session to approve the measures. Both Patrick and senators have expressed concerns with HB 1 and HB 2 — the property tax relief and human smuggling bills — saying they do not plan to pass those bills as written.
However, Patrick questioned the legitimacy of Speaker Dade Phelan’s move to adjourn and suggested it is possible for the lower chamber to return even after gaveling out sine die. He said both chambers have to approve the other’s move to adjourn sine die before ending a session.
“We’ve heard from some House members that they can come back since they haven’t officially adjourned sine die, because we haven’t allowed them to,” Patrick said, adding: “If they really want to come back and help homeowners get the tax cut they deserve, they’ll figure out a way.”
In Texas, one special session is limited to a maximum of 30 days. Patrick did not respond directly to reporter questions about whether he intends to run the clock.
“All the speaker has to do is say, ‘you know what? Senate, why don’t you sine die and I’ll ask the governor to call us back the next day.’ And we’ll just come back start all over,” he said. “We pretty much are at the point where we’ve done all the work that the governor asked us to do.”
The Speaker’s office did not indicate any openness to bringing House members back again during this first special session, as noted in a statement sent by its communications director, Cait Wittman.
“The Texas Senate is the only chamber that has not passed property tax reform and border security legislation in a way that is germane to Governor Abbott’s special session call. The House has passed the largest property tax cut in state history three times this year. In the special session, the House came to work, passed its bills with bipartisan support, and adjourned — the Senate is keeping Texans waiting. We encourage the Senate to follow the House’s lead so that Texans can have the property tax relief and the secure border they deserve.”Cait Wittman, Communications Director for House Speaker Dade Phelan
With none of the top three Republican leaders showing willingness to compromise, Texans will have to wait for property tax relief.