One of the things to watch for at the end of a session of the Texas Legislature is dead bills that suddenly spring back to life.
They’re not zombies, not the walking dead. They’re actually alive again as amendments to other legislation.
That happened this past week with state Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s “tax relief” legislation, which the Senate tacked on as an amendment to another bill on local property taxes, Senate Bill 1760.
In the transition, Bettencourt lost the strictest revenue cap part of his bill that’s still stuck in the Senate Finance Committee. City and county officials opposed the revenue cap bill.
What survives as an amendment to SB 1760 has its own problems. It’s major legislation, and being added as an amendment on the floor of the Senate means it escaped the scrutiny and public testimony of a formal committee hearing.
The amended SB 1760 was approved by the Senate and sent to the House, where it can have a committee hearing if members take it seriously.
Bettencourt’s amendment would take away some of the control local authorities have over their tax rates.
It would make it more difficult for them to hold their tax rates steady or even decrease them a little and still gain greater revenue because of increased property appraisals.
Setting a tax rate that brings in more money from existing homes and businesses than the previous tax year would require approval from 60 percent of the members of a city council or school board, up from the 50 percent required today.
Getting that supermajority probably means just one more council or board member’s vote, but that can be more difficult than it sounds.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick gushed over the passage of SB 1760, saying it “delivers true tax relief for Texas homeowners by placing a downward pressure on the oppressive growth of property taxes through transparency.”
He called it “another step in an overall plan to reduce property taxes for homeowners and businesses.”
He’s assuming it receives House approval. That’s not at all certain once local officials have a chance to study what the bill does and to present testimony at a House committee hearing.
The House is more keen on cutting sales taxes rather than property taxes.