AUSTIN — Voters would have the power to prevent their local governmental bodies from increasing property taxes by more than 2.5 percent per year under legislation introduced in the Texas Senate and House on Jan. 31.
Senate Bill 2 and identical House Bill 2, both 116 pages in length, propose to amend the current law, in which local taxing authorities may increase taxes up to 8 percent each year before a rollback election would be required. Cries for relief are widespread, given the leeway current law affords and the fact that county appraisal districts may increase the value of property at the same time.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said, “People desperately need property tax reform, our businesses need property tax reform, and we have set out, on this date, early in session, with a major piece of legislation. We are setting the tone for the rest of the session on this issue,” Patrick added.
In the introduced versions of SB 2 and HB 2, taxing authorities that bring in less than $15 million in annual revenue would be exempt from the new requirements.
Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, chair of the Senate Property Tax Committee, said, “The vexing problem facing taxpayers is that tax bills are going up at least two or three times faster than they can handle. I think that the concept of having a two and a half percent rollback rate across the board means there's a universal solution.”
According to the Senate News Service, local elected officials have turned out in force to oppose caps on taxing growth, saying it harms their ability to deliver on needed services in their home communities. So far, those efforts have succeeded, as similar measures have failed to reach the governor’s desk in previous sessions.
Patrick said that while he hopes local officials will work with the state on this issue, ultimately property tax reform is coming. “We have been stopped time after time in the past by a total resistance to reform,” he said. “The days of saying, ‘No, we’re going to kill the bill because we don’t want change’ . . . that day is over.”
The Senate Property Tax Committee will meet this week to discuss SB 2. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen soon will assign HB 2 to a committee. HB 2 author Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, chairs the House Ways & Means Committee, which is scheduled to meet this week.
Advisory sparks lawsuits
LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, last week filed lawsuits alleging the violation of voting rights, voter suppression and voter intimidation over an election advisory dated Jan. 25 and addressed to county voter registrars by Texas Secretary of State David Whitley.
In the advisory, Whitley informed the registrars that some 95,000 individuals identified by the Texas Department of Public Safety as non-U.S. citizens have matching voter registration records in Texas. Whitley said about 58,000 of those have voted in one or more Texas elections, and that those records would be turned over to the Texas Attorney General's office for potential legal action.
MALDEF’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Corpus Christi Division. LULAC’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio. Both civil rights organizations seek to stop the state from removing registered voters, particularly those who are naturalized, from voter rolls. MALDEF's lawsuit names as defendants Whitley, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott and Galveston County Tax Assessor and Collector Cheryl E. Johnson, in their official capacities. LULAC's lawsuit names as defendants Whitley and Paxton.
Land Office sets deadline
Hurricane Harvey survivors living in temporary housing units provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Texas General Land Office need to solidify their housing plans leading up to a Feb. 25 deadline, Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced Jan. 30.
Those who continue to meet FEMA eligibility requirements may be approved to pay rent and remain in their current temporary housing units through Aug. 25. Others may be eligible to purchase their unit. However, these programs must be approved by local officials and may not be available in all areas, according to a General Land Office news release.
Hurricane Harvey hit coastal and inland counties of Texas from late August to early September 2017, directly or indirectly causing more than 100 deaths, displacing tens of thousands of citizens and causing monetary damages estimated at $125 billion.
Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association.