Here’s how Gov. Abbott would limit property tax increases

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visited Arlington Wednesday to announce a plan to limit property tax increases.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visited Arlington Wednesday to announce a plan to limit property tax increases. atinsley@star-telegram.com

Gov. Greg Abbott has a plan to give Texans long-sought property tax relief.

The key, said Abbott, who is seeking a second term in office, is putting a 2.5 percent revenue growth cap on property tax dollars collected by local taxing entities — cities, school districts and counties — unless voters approve a larger amount.

“Our fellow Texans are angry and they are frustrated about the skyrocketing property taxes in this state,” said Abbott, who was flanked Wednesday by more than a dozen North Texas lawmakers as he detailed his plan at the Tarrant County Subcourthouse in Arlington. “And they are demanding that something be done.

“I say enough is enough,” he said. “We can no longer sit idly by while homeowners are reduced to being tenants of their own property with taxing authorities playing their own role of landlord.”

Abbott has long supported the idea of property tax relief, but last year lawmakers were unable to agree on a plan, even one that included a larger revenue growth cap than what the governor proposed this week.

The governor’s 33-page proposal, which comes as property taxes in Texas have spiked nearly 200 percent since 1997, drew quick criticism from Democrats, who say Republicans are to blame for higher tax collections.

“Property taxes are too high, and that’s because Gov. Abbott and the Republican Legislature rely on rising school district property tax collections to balance the state budget,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who leads the Texas House Democratic Caucus. “Under Gov. Abbott, the state’s spending on public education is actually declining this year, forcing homeowners to pick up more of the slack.

“Any plan that purports to address property taxes without reforming our broken school finance system is not a serious plan,” he said in a written statement. “Texans expect the governor and lawmakers to make our public schools a priority.”

But local Republicans vowed to stand behind Abbott’s plan and find Texans some relief next year, when the Legislature goes back to work.

“We will see that pass next session,” said state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth.

“It’s the No. 1 issue for me,” said state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville. “Homeowners pay mortgages and on top of that, [there’s] an ever increasing tax burden.

“I’m going to fight with you on this,” she told Abbott after he announced his plan Wednesday.

Mixed reactions

Critics note that even if Abbott’s plan is approved by the Legislature next year, it doesn’t mean tax bills will go down. That’s because those bills are based on the appraised value of homes and businesses and the land they sit on.

Even if a city or school district lowers the tax rate, property owners could still pay a higher tax bill if the value of the land or building has increased.

“If Gov. Abbott is really concerned about property taxes, then he should join the business leaders and other Texans calling for more state investment in public schools,” said Ann Beeson, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “Cuts to state funding of public education have meant more reliance on property taxes as well as crowded classrooms and worse teacher retention.”

Some say they expect Abbott’s plan to be staunchly opposed by school districts, cities and counties that at times raise taxes to cover public needs.

Tarrant County and Fort Worth school district spokesmen didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said she hasn’t studied Abbott’s plan in depth but hopes to work with him and state lawmakers to find the best way to help Texans.

“Obviously we support local control,” she said. “And in Fort Worth we’ve been very responsible and lowered our rate 5 cents the last two years.

“We will work with the governor’s office in finding a solution.”

Abbott’s plan

While Texas property taxes have spiked in recent decades, residents do not pay a state income tax, as those in many other states do.

Abbott on Wednesday said a state income tax is not even an option.

“No, no, one thousand times, no,” he said with a chuckle after being asked whether he would consider it.

What the governor’s plan would do is put a 2.5 percent cap on revenue growth from property taxes and require two-thirds of voters to approve raising that cap.

There would be limited reasons for collecting revenue beyond that cap. Some reasons, Abbott said, include funding raises for teachers and law enforcers.

It also would require local officials who oversee taxing districts to vote on whether to raise property appraisals. Abbott said this would make the process more transparent and hold “elected officials accountable to the voters.”

Abbott said another goal of his plan is to “restrain local debt, a major driver of property tax increases.”

At the same time, state lawmakers wouldn’t be able to require local governments to provide new services without giving them the money to cover those services.

The governor said his proposal is even more important since the federal tax reform measure — which limits deductions for local and state taxes to $10,000 — was passed by Congress.

Last year, the House and Senate could not agree on a property-tax relief plan.

The House next year will have a new leader, since House Speaker Joe Straus is not seeking re-election.

“Texans are fed up with property taxes that are being raised with impunity,” Abbott said. “They are tired of ongoing increased government spending while honest hardworking people are struggling just to keep up with their property tax bills.

“Our property tax system is broken,” he said. “We can no longer afford to kick this can down the road.”

To read Abbott’s full property tax reform policy, visit gregabbott.com/propertytaxes.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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