As Texas lawmakers negotiate on property tax reform, Gov. Greg Abbott says school taxes must be capped

As Texas lawmakers negotiate on property tax reform, Gov. Greg Abbott says school taxes must be capped
Gov. Greg Abbott visits the Texas Senate chamber on Tuesday.

"As Texas lawmakers negotiate on property tax reform, Gov. Greg Abbott says school taxes must be capped" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

As debate stalled on Thursday in both the Texas House and Senate over priority property tax legislation, and as questions lingered over how school districts should fit into the equation, Gov. Greg Abbott laid his own marker in the sand, stating through a spokesman that “there must be a cap on school districts’ ability to raise taxes.”

The lower chamber had for days planned to debate House Bill 2, its version of the high-priority legislation on Thursday. But amid rumors that the Senate would take up its own version of the bill, the House adjourned for a lunch break without taking the measure up.

One sticking point between the two chambers — and across party lines, to an extent — appears to be over school districts, which levy the bulk of property taxes in Texas, and whether and how they should be included in property tax reform legislation. In the original, identical versions of Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2, districts were included along with cities and counties. But after a House committee stripped them from its version of the consensus proposal, the bill’s Senate author, Houston Republican Paul Bettencourt criticized that approach, arguing in a now-deleted social media post that “school districts must be included as part of any property tax reform and relief plan.”

The governor — who has been careful to call on lawmakers to address his priority issues without specifying clearly which proposals he favors — seemed to side with Bettencourt on that issue Thursday afternoon.

“Regardless of which bill this cap is placed in, limiting school districts ability to raise property taxes is essential to achieve lasting property tax reduction,” a spokesman for the Republican governor said in a statement.

Abbott’s office made clear that a cap on school districts doesn’t need to be included in whatever property tax proposal ends up passing the House or Senate on Thursday, suggesting the governor is open to addressing the issue in school finance reform legislation.

The House has already passed a school finance proposal that would compress school districts’ property taxes by 4 cents per $100 valuation statewide — a different reform measure than the cap the governor has called “essential.” Some of the House’s more conservative members have, similarly, argued that language relating to school districts should be placed back into the legislation for “meaningful” relief.

Neither SB 2 nor HB 2 propose capping the amount of property taxes a city or county could levy; rather, both chambers’ bills require that there be an election if local entities seek to raise 2.5% more property tax revenue than the previous year.

Still, as Thursday afternoon carried on, it remained unclear how negotiations between the two chambers and the governor’s office were progressing — and when, if at all, either House Bill 2 or Senate Bill 2 would come up for a vote in their respective chambers.

In a radio interview Thursday morning with Lubbock host Chad Hasty, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he wasn’t sure whether the measure would hit the Senate floor on Thursday, but that he was “working towards it.”

“We have been a vote short on the Republican side,” Patrick said, saying he had 18 votes, but was one short of the 19-vote threshold to bring it to the floor. “One way or the other, we will get to where we need to be, where it’s today or another day.”

Shannon Najmabadi contributed reporting.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/04/11/texas-legislature-property-tax-debate-school-districts/.

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