Texas law­mak­ers pass prop­erty tax re­form

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ANNA M. TINSLEY AND TESSA WEINBERG atins­[email protected] twein­[email protected]

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 ap­prais

ers 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 per

son 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 noti

fi­ca­tion 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.

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

SCHOOL FI­NANCE

Prop­erty tax cuts and and teacher raises were among the items in another mea­sure ap­proved Satur­day night, House Bill 3, a sweep­ing school fi­nance bill that in­cludes $6.5 bil­lion more for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and $5.1 bil­lion for tax cuts.

“We have truly trans­formed the Texas pub­lic school fi­nance sys­tem, and school­child­ren in our great state will ben­e­fit from these changes for decades,” said state Rep. Dan Hu­berty, R-Hous­ton, and chair­man of the House Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee.

Through this bill, school prop­erty tax rates will drop by an av­er­age of 8 cents per $100 val­u­a­tion in 2020 and 13 cents per $100 val­u­a­tion in 2021. For the owner of a home val­ued at $200,000 in the Fort Worth school district, the sav­ings would be $140 in 2020 and $227.50 in 2021.

As for teacher raises, it’s hard to say what the av­er­age raise will be be­cause school dis­tricts will have a lot of dis­cre­tion in how they give them out.

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