Abbott, conservatives at odds over property tax reform


By Bethany Blankley

After the third special legislative session ended, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement praising the accomplishments of the Republican-led legislature as conservative grassroots leaders pointed out that no real property tax relief was accomplished.

Instead, the Republican-backed legislature voted to add a constitutional amendment giving homesteaders an average $175 rebate, which voters can approve or reject as a constitutional amendment in March 2022.

"Property tax relief, appropriating funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and redrawing legislative districts were at the forefront of the agenda for the third Special Session,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “Texans tasked the Legislature with delivering on these priorities, and I am proud to say not only did we deliver on these priorities, but the Legislature went above and beyond to solve other critical issues to ensure an even brighter future for the Lone Star State.”

He added that the legislature “successfully passed an innovative distribution package for ARPA funding – appropriating billions of dollars to bolster COVID-19 recovery, public safety, broadband infrastructure, cybersecurity, healthcare, and more.”

Abbott says the constitutional amendment “will provide property tax relief to Texas homeowners.”

But Michael Quinn Sullivan with Texas Scorecard argues, “After ignoring the issue for all of 2021’s regular legislative session, the two special sessions this summer, and until literally the last minute of the evaporating third special session, the Texas Legislature last night delivered a property tax solution’ no one asked for and which accomplishes almost nothing,” he wrote in an email to supporters.

Instead of working toward eliminating property taxes, following through with a proposal submitted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, legislators instead opted for the average $175 payment for people paying roughly $5,000 annually in property taxes, and only if voters pass a constitutional amendment next year.

The TPPF proposal was incorporated into a bill proposed by state Rep. Tom Oliverson, R–Houston, but was killed by House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and Calendars Committee chairman Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock.

Instead, HB 1, proposed by state Rep. Morgan Meyer, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, uses ARPA funds to provide pennies on the dollar in relief to only homesteaders. As property values increase, the amount is expected to be less.

“To benefit all with property, including renters and employers,” Oliverson argued, the homestead provision that was passed at the last minute by the legislature should have been combined with SB1, proposed by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, and his bill, HB90, which would use general revenue to reduce property taxes.

Former TPPF CEO Kevin Roberts, who accepted a job to head Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, said, “Texans will never experience the peace of mind that comes with owning their homes until property taxes are eliminated.”

Referring to the House’s failure to pass property tax reform, he said, “Even more concerning, there are no permanent changes to the system that would compress rates over time.”

According to a July WPA Intelligence poll, 76% of registered voters “agree that property taxes are a major burden for them and their family.” An overwhelming majority, 82%, said “property taxes are a serious issue in Texas” and 71% said they “would be upset if the current legislative session ended with nothing done to address property taxes.”

The homestead exemption bill was proposed and approved in less than 12 hours, indicating that Republican legislators can pass bills if they “choose to prioritize certain legislation,” Sullivan added.

The longstanding legislative priorities of the Texas GOP that fell by the wayside during the regular session and three special legislative sessions this year “paints clearly the picture of the ongoing struggle between Republican activists and lawmakers from their own party,” he said.

Abbott’s two leading Republican challengers in next year's race for governor, Ret. Lt. Col. Allen West and former state legislator Don Huffines, who describe themselves as the conservative alternative to Abbott, argue the state budget surplus should go toward providing property tax relief.

West said that he’d work to replace Texas’ progressive property tax with a consumption-based tax, arguing Texans are currently renting their own home from the government.

Huffines supports reducing property taxes by cutting state spending, but has blamed Abbott for blocking Oliverson’s bill.

“Despite repeatedly promising Texas voters to cut their property taxes, Greg Abbott has left Texans with higher bills each year,” he said in a statement last month. “Instead of fighting to cut taxes, Abbott has failed to work for the passage of commonsense conservative plans to cut them like State Rep. Tom Oliverson’s House Bill 90. Abbott’s lack of support has prevented this legislation from coming to the floor and passing the Texas House.”

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