GOVERNOR CALLS LEGISLATURE BACK FOR IMMEDIATE SPECIAL SESSION
(AUSTIN) — Barely three hours after the Senate adjourned the 88th Regular Session sine die, Governor Greg Abbott released a proclamation Monday evening calling for a special session to begin immediately. The governor wants to see action on two topics: property taxes and border security. Abbott has unlimited discretion to call and set the agenda for called sessions and the proclamation puts specific limits on potential legislation. For property taxes, he limited the scope of bills to property tax compression, funding a reduction in local school property tax rates with state money. On border security, he is limiting legislation to drug stash houses and human trafficking. "We must cut property taxes. During the regular session, we added $17.6 billion to cut property taxes," Abbott said in a press release announcing the special session. "However, the legislature could not agree on how to allocate funds to accomplish this goal. Texans want and need a path towards eliminating property taxes. The best way to do that is to direct property tax reduction dollars to cut school property tax rates.” Abbott said these won't be the last issues he lays before the legislature this summer. "Many critical items remain that must be passed. Several special sessions will be required. To ensure that each priority receives the time and attention it deserves to pass into law, only a few will be added each session," he said.
The House and Senate couldn't come to an agreement on how to deliver $17.6 billion in property tax relief set aside in the state budget. The House wanted to lower the cap on annual appraisal growth by half, to five percent, and extend that cap beyond residential properties to all real properties. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said that idea was dead-on-arrival in the Senate. Because of a cap placed on local revenue growth in 2019, Patrick said that appraisal growth is now largely disconnected from annual property tax assessments. If home values go up sharply, driving up local revenue collections, then taxing districts must either lower their tax rates or ask the voters to approve collecting the new revenue. If appraisal growth is lowered further, Patrick has said, then tax rates don't need to come down.
The Senate preferred a homestead exemption in the regular session, permitting homeowners to write off up to $70,000 of their home's value before assessment, nearly double the current exemption of $40,000. Despite the limitations set out in the governor's call, the Senate is pressing ahead with this plan. The Senate Finance Committee met briefly to vote out the new proposal, SB 1 by Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt, which would increase the homestead exemption to $100,000. It also includes provisions for tax compression, funding a ten-cent decrease in the ad valorem tax rates. Combined with on-going tax compression from 2019's HB 3, Bettencourt said that local school property taxes should come down almost 21 cents per $100 valuation. Under the plan, the average homeowner in Texas will save more than $1,200 on their annual property tax bill, he said, about half of which comes from the homestead tax provision. This bill was quickly moved to the floor Tuesday where it was voted out of the Senate unanimously.
Though the governor's call directs lawmakers to consider only tax compression as a means to deliver property tax relief, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick told members that the legislature is given broad discretion to meet the goals set forth under the session call. "It's well established in both Senate precedence and Texas case law that the legislature is not held in strict interpretation of subjects submitted in the governor's call, but that the legislature has the authority to determine the specific details of legislation as long as they come generally within the call," he said. "In the chair's opinion, the subject matter of the call is to provide tax relief for Texans, and these bills absolutely fall within the subject matter of the proclamation by providing an increase in the homestead exemption and a reduction in property tax rates."
The Senate will reconvene Friday, June 2 at 10 a.m.