With the speaker and lieutenant governor by his side Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 2, a wide-ranging reform measure to slow the growth of property taxes in Texas.
Against the backdrop of Wally’s Burger Express, a north Austin burger joint whose property taxes are increasing by 44 percent this year, Abbott and fellow Republicans took a ceremonial victory lap after achieving one of the state GOP’s top priorities.
“What this does is achieve something that has never been done before with regard to property tax reforms of the past,” Abbott said.
SB 2 will reform much of the tax and property appraisal systems. Led by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, the new law — which goes into effect in 2020 — requires taxing entities, like cities and counties, to post their budgets and tax rates online.
City and county governments will also need voter approval under the new law before raising more than 3.5 percent property tax revenue from the previous year.
“I think Republicans are going to be campaigning on this as a huge win,” said Aman Batheja, political editor for the Texas Tribune. “A lot of it is going to depend on how the state Republicans sell this plan and whether homeowners feel they got anything out of it.”
Carlos Sanchez, Texas Monthly political editor, said property tax reform was a battle Democrats wanted to win, but with the complexity of the issue and how much “relief” tax payers will actually see they may have an opportunity to reform the system again.
“What this legislation did was prevent property tax creep,” Sanchez said. “A lot of people are confusing that and they think they are going to get property tax relief.”
Sanchez said the school finance bill, House Bill 3, will actually provide Texans some property tax relief, but nothing too substantial.
“A $250,000 home, you can expect a savings of between $200 and $300 (because of the school finance bill) but a lot of people aren’t going to see that as much relief,” Sanchez said.
One thing’s for certain, property tax rates will go down, but how substantial the rate change is will vary by district. Estimates from the 2020 fiscal year budget say HB3 will lower tax rates by about 8 cents per $100 in home values in Austin ISD — which will get $87 million in additional revenue from the state under the new law.
Reforming the financing of entire state public education has been a focus for state lawmakers for years. Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, is also taking on the issue of education in Washington.
Cornyn announced a new bill Friday — the USA Civics Act — to improve civic courses in school across the U.S. The bill would authorize federal grants to improve programs on American history and western civilizations.
“I think it’s important to go back and remind all of our young people of [our] history and those lessons so they don’t have to learn them the hard way,” Cornyn said.