LT. GOV CALLS ON HOUSE TO RETURN TO AUSTIN TO WORK ON PROPERTY TAX RELIEF
(AUSTIN) — Lt. Governor Dan Patrick held a press conference on Tuesday to tout the Senate's property tax plan and call the House back to Austin to continue to negotiate. The House adjourned sine die last week after quickly passing a property tax cut and border security bill, but Patrick said without permission of the Senate, it isn't valid. Each body, he said, must approve the other's final adjournment of a session and since the Senate never did, Patrick believes that House members can return to Austin and get back to work. "I say to the House: come back to work, we're working. We'll be here," he said.
At issue is how to divvy up $17.6 billion in property tax cuts set aside in the upcoming 2024-2025 budget passed during the regular session that ended May 29th. Governor Greg Abbott issued a very tight agenda, limiting property tax cut efforts solely to compression, looking only for bills that spend the entire amount on buying down local school property taxes. This is the plan that also passed the House last week, but Patrick said the bill has no chance in the Senate. "That's a negotiation we are not backing down from, ever, in the Senate," he said. "There are not 21 votes, which is what it would take to pass an all-compression bill." The Senate plan would take $5.7 billion of the full amount and raise the homestead exemption from the current $40,000 to $100,000. The rest would go to compression.
The governor's plan would go to everyone who pays property taxes in Texas, said Patrick: homeowners, business owners, and land owners who live out of state. Projected savings for the average homeowner under that plan is about $700. The Senate plan would give the 5.5 million homeowners in Texas an additional $500-$700 in property tax savings every year, Patrick told reporters. When Texans heard that the legislature was looking to deliver historic property tax relief this session, Patrick said they were thinking about their own tax bills. "Homeowners weren't thinking about reducing property taxes for shopping centers and offices and every other complex you can think of, or people out of state who own property here," he said. "They were thinking about themselves - rightfully so!"
Patrick also poured cold water on the notion of eliminating all school property taxes, a position recently touted by Governor Abbott on social media. Given the fiscal realities, he said, it's not possible to fund state services without property taxes. "Look, we all want to end property taxes," he said. "But you can't fund the government off just sales taxes." Maintaining the property tax cuts proposed under the government plan would also mean another payment of at least $17.6 billion next biennium to local municipalities. "We have to do that every year for the rest of our lives," said Patrick. "If you don't do it one year, property taxes hit the roof." In order to cover the cost of state government absent property taxes, Patrick said that sales tax rates would have to rise from 6 percent to 20 percent, a rate neither the legislature nor the voters would approve.
Despite the limitations of the governor's call, Patrick reiterated his argument from last week, that the legislature has wide latitude to interpret special session agendas, and said he thought that the governor would sign the Senate plan if it cleared both chambers. "I cannot imagine that he would veto a bill if the House and Senate send him a bill that's 70 percent compression - because compression is good, we're not arguing that - but 30 percent for a homestead exemption," he said. "Our [plan] gives a $1200 to $1400 tax cut, and it's permanent. They give a $740 tax cut that's not permanent."
The current session is slated to end on June 28th, but Abbott has already said he'd call "several" special sessions to deal with a number of issues. If the House and Senate can't come to an agreement, property tax cuts will likely be number one on the agenda for the next called session.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, June 7 at 9 a.m.