Throughout the 86th Legislature, the premier issue has been Texans’ rising property taxes. In his 2019 State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott declared the issue an emergency.
Abbott stated, “If we are going to keep Texas the economic engine of America, we must rein in a property tax system that punishes families and businesses and prevents younger Texans from achieving their dream of homeownership.”
As the session has unfolded, property tax reform and many of the other goals Abbott identified as critical has proven to be difficult and messy to achieve. This is not altogether surprising as the legislative process lends itself to routine twists and turns. However, for priority issues like property taxes, the road has been anything but smooth.
The sales tax hike the “Big Three” proposed — which was the lynchpin for “buying down” the increase in property tax rates — was abandoned after polling showed it’s unpopularity and an LBB report showed an overall tax increase for Texans making less than $100,000 per year.
As conferees currently meet behind closed doors to try to deliver a bill before a hard deadline at the end of the week, details over what’s in the property tax package still remain murky. Given how poorly received the sales tax increase proposal was received by both the public and many lawmakers, that looming end-of-session deadline isn’t making things any easier.
And while the Legislature and Governor are likely to still deliver on their promise to curtail the growth of property tax rates, anything can happen.
In an exclusive, new polling provided to The Texan shows what Texans think of the property tax debate thus far.
Conducted for the Texas Public Policy Foundation by WPA Intelligence from May 19 – 21, the poll surveyed 803 Texas voters and contains a margin of error of 3.5 percent.
Voters were asked about SB 2’s 2.5 percent property tax increase cap and the trigger requiring a ratifying election for rates higher than 2.5 percent. Of those surveyed, 40 percent said they “strongly oppose” the ability to increase property taxes over the cap even with voter approval. And total opposition to a ratifying election trigger above the 2.5 percent rate stands at 53 percent.
When asked how they would feel if, next year, their property taxes still went up, an eye-popping 80 percent said they would be disappointed or somewhat disappointed.
As the end of session looms, there has been some talk about a special session — namely the fact that almost everyone wants to avoid one. Both Gov. Abbott and Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) stated publicly their determination not to resort to that.
But when asked whether they would support a special session if no proposals cutting property taxes are passed before the end of the session, 54 percent of respondents in the WPA poll said they would support a special session to deliver property tax reform.
Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) stated repeatedly on the House floor when presenting his property tax substitute for SB 2 that, “The bill does not cut property taxes.” He also stated that in order to truly cut property taxes, the education code must be reformed since that is what dictates school finance.
The clock is ticking on the 86th Legislature and it’s less than a week before it strikes midnight. Texas lawmakers are in crunch mode to deliver on their campaign promises.
A lot can and will surely happen before sine die. But it’s clear Texas voters have expectations of what they want out of this session.
And failure to deliver significant property tax reform is not one of them.
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 chairing the Edmund Burke fan club.