Ten House Democrats in the Texas Congressional delegation have signed a letter requesting that the state government prevent property tax increases due to the economic pressures caused by the coronavirus.
In light of the public health crisis, the letter begins, “Government is asking businesses everywhere to tighten their belts and accept losses… [and is] asking working families in Texas to do more with less.”
The Texas Congress members Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-07), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-15), Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16), Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30), Colin Allred (D-TX-32), Marc Veasey (D-TX-33), and Filemon Vela (D-TX-34) all signed their names to the letter.
“We, as public servants, must look for ways to ensure Texans can save some money in order to use it for other much-needed purposes at this critical time.”
Due to a loophole in Senate Bill 2, cities and counties are exempt from the new 3.5 percent limit on property tax increases since Governor Abbott issued a disaster declaration for the state.
But these congressmen are asking Abbott and the Texas Legislature to “suspend any raises, interest and penalties on Texas property taxes for the current taxable year.”
The legislature, of course, has the authority to pass any property tax legislation it desires — as it did in 2019 with Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 3 which were then signed by Abbott.
But the governor is a more precarious suggestion, as controlling property tax increases isn’t typically considered an executive power. However, according to a source close to the situation, the group’s suggested gubernatorial action is based in Sec. 418.016.(e) of the state’s Emergency Management Code.
That section reads, “On request of a political subdivision, the governor may waive or suspend a deadline imposed by a statute or the orders or rules of a state agency on the political subdivision, including a deadline relating to a budget or ad valorem tax, if the waiver or suspension is reasonably necessary to cope with a disaster.”
Property tax reform has long been on the legislative wish-list of Texans. A Texas Tribune poll from March 2019 found that Texans said property taxes were the “most important [issue] for the Legislature to address” during the 86th legislative session.
A May 2019 poll found that 80 percent of Texans would be disappointed if their property taxes increased in 2020.
Even despite the massive appetite for reform among taxpayers, the 86th Legislature was only able to secure a stricter limit on the growth of property taxes — a significant achievement in one legislative session, but a modest reform in the grand scheme of the problem.
Those congressmen make clear that their request is due solely in response to the pandemic, stating, “We all believe in raising property taxes when times are good, and property values have indeed increased.”
Last year, after the new legislation was passed, many local taxing entities took the opportunity to squeeze in one last property tax increase before the new levels took effect.
But it’s not just the rate increase that has burdened taxpayers. Their appraisals are continuously rising as well.
A freeze in property valuations for this tax year is also requested by the lawmakers.
The letter continues, “This simple relief will allow our fellow Texans to pay the same amount of property taxes they paid when times were good, while at the same time continue to provide the budgetary support to those essential services that are funded by property tax dollars throughout the state.”
“Freezing property tax values in this time of crisis is a Texas value.”
About the appeal, Rep. Gonzales, who organized the letter, said, “Texans are facing an unprecedented crisis due to the coronavirus. We implore Governor Abbott to offer hardworking Texans a financial reprieve during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.”
Rep. Vela added, “Freezing all raises, interest and penalties on property taxes for the year would bring much needed relief to property owners across our great state.”
“Freezing property taxes this year will ease costs for our constituents, while reserving sufficient resources for frontline services that are critical in Texas,” Rep. Cuellar concluded.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.