State Politics

Texas lawmakers pass property tax reform bill

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Railroad commissioner? County Court-at-Law judge? County tax assessor-collector? When you head to the polls, know what the responsibilities are of the positions on your ballot. Here's a brief explainer on some of the key elected positions in Texas
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Railroad commissioner? County Court-at-Law judge? County tax assessor-collector? When you head to the polls, know what the responsibilities are of the positions on your ballot. Here's a brief explainer on some of the key elected positions in Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott has said for months that he wanted lawmakers to find a way to give Texas property owners — particularly those being taxed out of their homes — some relief.

Late Saturday, state lawmakers signed off on a property tax reform plan they believe will do just that.

“It has been over 40 years since we’ve had significant property tax reform,” said state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, who carried the bill in the House.

The measure is known as Senate Bill 2, or the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019.

And it’s geared, state officials say, to slow the growth of already skyrocketing property taxes and make the entire process of how they are calculated more transparent.

“For far too long, Texans have seen their property taxes skyrocket as they are reduced to tenants of their own land,” Abbott said in a statement. “Tonight, the Texas Legislature took a meaningful step in reinforcing private property rights by reining in the power of local taxing entities, providing more transparency to the property tax process, and enacting long awaited appraisal reforms.”

The House approved the measure on an 88-50 vote, with Tarrant County Democratic state Reps. Nicole Collier, of Fort Worth, and Chris Turner, of Grand Prairie, voting against it. The Senate approved the measure on a 21-9 vote with state Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Fort Worth, voting against it.

“The deal that’s been negotiated is one that’s for the record books,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, author of the Senate’s version of the bill.

And Tarrant County residents played a key role in the legislation by making their voices heard, officials said.

“Those Texas citizens’ testimonies, I can recall,” said state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who chaired the conference committee that negotiated the bill’s changes. “We had a huge turnout in Tarrant County. The voices of the taxpayers that we heard, ... they were recalled time and time again.”

Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen recently touted a legislative agreement on this and two other key bills — House Bill 3, the school finance bill, and House Bill 1, the state’s budget. The only bill lawmakers must pass each session is a balanced budget.

Lawmakers are expected to sign off on the budget Sunday, the day before the session ends Monday.

Key provisions

“Texas taxpayers are frustrated by rising property taxes,” Burrows said. “They are often confused about the process, and many are scared of losing their homes. Senate Bill 2 sheds light on who is raising their taxes and by how much, it encourages Texas voters to get involved and engaged, and it gives our taxpayers more control over the process.”

Among the measures in the lengthy bill:

Capping property tax revenue at 3.5 percent for cities and counties. A separate bill includes a 2.5 percent for schools. The goal, they say, is to slow the future growth of property tax bills. Cities, counties and schools could always raise more revenue from property taxes with voter approval. For years, taxing entities could raise 8 percent more in property tax revenue before voters could call for an election to roll that rate back.

Letting chief appraisers keep a list of people who will provide free assistance in property tax value appeals to give to those appealing their values.

Stipulating that a person can’t be an employee of a taxing entity and also on the Appraisal Board, in an effort to eliminate conflicts of interest.

Creating a better notification process about exemptions.

“I think this is transformative,” said state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth. “I think we’ll look back at this and see it as the spark that began to lower property taxes in Texas.”

Krause this year filed House Bill 1333, the Appraisal District Reform Act, which was folded into this overall property tax reform bill.

Tarrant concerns

Turner said he voted against the bill because he believes it’s “a bad idea.”

“I believe cities and counties should have the flexibility to govern and write their budgets the way they see fit,” he said.

And if voters don’t like it, they can always choose to vote those officials out of office.

“I don’t think the Legislature should micromanage county and city decisions, and that’s what SB 2 does,” Turner said. “And I fear that, because of SB 2, we will see significant cutbacks in essential public services, such as public safety.”

Local officials have long been concerned about the impact of this bill.

“My objection all along has been that it’s interfering with local control,” Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said.

But he believes Tarrant County won’t be impacted by the property revenue caps as much as smaller counties because the community continues to grow and generate more revenue.

“We will be limited,” Whitley said Saturday evening. “But I think we will be OK.”

He did say there’s much in the final version of the massive bill made public this weekend that he hasn’t had a chance to review.

“The devil is in the details,” Whitley said.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the city also is reviewing the legislation.

“That being said, Fort Worth has always operated under budget constraints, and we will continue to do so,” Price said in a statement. “Fort Worth will continue to operate in a fiscally conservative manner without jeopardizing services our citizens depend on most.”

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.

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