WEEK IN REVIEW
PATRICK SAYS HOUSE NEEDS TO RETURN TO AUSTIN
(AUSTIN) — Lt. Governor Dan Patrick told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday that absent permission from the Senate, the House cannot adjourn itself permanently for the current special session and called on representatives to return to Austin to continue work on priority bills. After passing a tax relief bill and a border security bill, the House adjourned sine die last week, signaling that they believed they had completed their work for this called session and placing the Senate in a "take-it-or-leave-it" scenario. The agenda outlined by Governor Greg Abbott asked for bills relating to property tax relief but limited the mechanism to compression, where the state buys down local school property tax rates. The Senate's unanimous preference, however, is to take part of the $17.4 billion allocated for tax relief in the 2023-2024 budget and use it to raise the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000. Patrick said that would be about 30 percent of the appropriated tax relief funds.
Though both chambers and the governor are keen to deliver record property tax relief following record state revenues and a record budget surplus, leadership has clashed throughout the regular session over the best method to deliver it. The House plan offered during the regular session looked to lower the cap on appraisal increases from ten to five percent and apply it to all real property across the state. This was a non-starter in the Senate, as Lt. Governor Patrick said that past legislation requiring voter approval for local revenue increases has largely eliminated the connection between appraisal growth and higher taxes. Both plans included significant funds for compression. The House added a $100,000 exemption to their plan on the last weekend of session, but negotiations fell apart and lawmakers couldn't come to an agreement, leading to the governor calling an immediate special session, and trying to take the caps vs. exemption argument off the table by limiting relief to compression only. The House quickly passed a bill doing just that, but the Senate wasn’t prepared to abandon their plan and instead again unanimously passed a $100,000 exemption. "That's a negotiation we are not backing down from, ever, in the Senate," said Patrick. "There are not 21 votes, which is what it would take, to pass an all-compression bill."
Patrick maintains that the Senate plan will deliver more tax relief to homeowners than the House plan, saying that the average homeowner could save more than $1200 a year on property taxes, compared to the $700 savings offered by the House plan. He added that voters didn't send lawmakers to Austin to cut taxes on corporations. "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!"
The House's absence is also complicating passage of border security bills included in the governor's agenda. Abbott has called for legislation relating to penalties for human trafficking and stash houses. The Senate passed HB 2 on Thursday, which would increase minimum sentences for those convicted of operating drug stash houses or illegally transporting migrants to ten years. The Senate made some slight changes to the House version, tightening up provisions that lessen penalties if the individuals are related, among others. Normally, the measure would head back to the House where members could concur with Senate changes to the bill or appoint a conference committee to work out the differences. With the other chamber standing empty, however, this cannot happen, meaning this bill cannot be sent to the governor. Should representatives agree to return to the Capitol, there is still time to resolve these issues before session ends on June 28th, but if not, both tax relief and border security issues will likely top the agenda for the governor's next special session. Abbott has vowed to call multiple specials to deal with a number of issues, including school choice, over the summer and beyond.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, June 12, at 2 p.m.