Patrick prioritizes property tax relief ahead of Texas legislative session

Ahead of the Texas legislature convening Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick laid out 21 priorities he hopes are considered during the 88th legislative session. At the top of the list is property tax relief.

According to the Tax Foundation, Texas ranks sixth highest for property taxes paid as a percentage of owner-occupied housing value. It ranks 11th for state and local property tax collections per capita of $2,098 annually.

“We have an extraordinary opportunity unlike we have never had before to chart the future of the state of Texas and create a vision,” he said when he first laid out his plan last month.

Patrick pointed to Texas’ tremendous financial growth, noting that in January 2005, available general revenue was $64.7 billion. As of July 2022, it was $149 billion, including a $27 billion surplus.

His agenda is property tax relief – but not by spending even half of the surplus, he said, in contradiction to a pledge made last fall by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Patrick said the legislature could increase homestead exemptions to at least $60,000, which would provide taxpayers about $2 billion in relief. Even though homestead exemptions were raised in the last legislative session, saving the average homeowner less than $200 on their property tax bill, most Texans have only seen their property taxes go up, and exponentially.

Several lawmakers began filing bills last fall to address this, including proposals that would limit how much an appraised value of a residential homestead ad valorem tax could be increased.

While groups like Texans for Fiscal Responsibility have called on state leadership to return the entire surplus to taxpayers in the form of property tax relief, Patrick said the legislature wasn’t going to spend the entire surplus.

“We’re not going to spend all the money,” he said. “You don’t know what’s ahead. That would be foolish to spend every dollar.”

He also said the legislature can’t even spend half the money on property tax relief because that would “bust the spending cap.”

Other priorities Patrick listed included strengthening the state’s power grid, continued funding for border security and law enforcement, calling for a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for crimes committed using firearms, changing state law to allow voters to recall district prosecutors, expanding scholarship programs for college, and additional state spending for multi-billion-dollar higher education institutions and public school teacher salaries. He also expressed support for a “parental bill of rights.”

Patrick said the legislature needs to strengthen election law after it weakened an election reform bill last session that was watered down by Democrats, voted on by Republicans and signed into law by Abbott. Touted as a strong voter reform bill, it actually weakened existing law by lowering the charge for illegal voting from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor. The weakened bill was one fought over by Democrats, who broke quorum and halted legislative proceedings for over a month by fleeing to the U.S. Capitol.

Patrick said his plan was a general overview and it was up to legislators to file bills. As of Jan. 9, at least 1,635 bills have been filed, according to state legislature data.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has proposed reducing property taxes by limiting state spending and the size of government.

“From a limited government perspective,” it explains, “the most ideal option would be to allow for no new growth in the next state budget.” Limiting spending “would demonstrate incredible fiscal discipline, control for new government growth, and make available a maximum amount of resources for tax relief purposes.”

In its 2024-25 Conservative Texas Budget, TPPF suggests the legislature commit to passing a budget with zero growth. If it can’t do that, it suggests the next best alternatives include holding a budget to historical population and inflation trends (12%) or holding it to maximum population and inflation expectations (16%).

At these percentage levels, initial appropriation caps for the 2024-25 budget would freeze growth at 0% at $245 billion, at 12% growth at $274 billion and at 16% growth at $284.5 billion, it says.

It also notes these limits should be seen as “a ceiling, not a floor.”

Historic inflation increases and modest population growth, it adds, are projected to reach nearly 16% over the next two years. While this could provide policymakers “with tremendous spending growth potential,” doing so “is the least ideal option since it would expand the size of government to uncomfortable levels, greatly reduce the opportunity for maximum tax relief, and potentially set the stage for a difficult 2025 legislative session. “

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