AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Top Texas Republicans agreed on property tax relief is their top priority, but remained sharply at odds about how to get it done.
On Thursday, House Speaker Dade Phelan unveiled what he said would be “the largest property tax decrease in history of state of Texas.” It’s was House Bill 2, the coveted bill number carried by Ways and Means Chair Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas).
HB 2 would lower the appraisal value cap to 5%. That would mean local appraisal districts could not value a home at more than 5% of its current value each year. The current cap was set at 10%. This benefit would apply to all property, rather than only to homesteads.
“We can talk about homestead exemptions all day long, and that is great. But what does that do for the small business? I have constituents who don’t even own a home, they pour it all back into their business,” Phelan told the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Policy Summit Thursday. “But when their values go up 200% and there’s nothing they can do about it… it’s not right. It’s not Texan, and the Texas House is gonna do something about it this session.”
HB 2 would also decrease the amount that school districts can tax a home, lowering the maximum compressed tax rate by 15 cents.
“That will bring the overall property tax relief to well over 17 billion, the largest property tax cut in the history of the state of Texas without argument,” Phelan said. “House Bill Two will be the avenue in which we hopefully get that done and get it to the governor’s desk.”
The arguments, however, came quickly.
On the same stage hours later, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick publicly grilled Phelan’s property tax plan.
“I think the intentions of the House are good. But that would be a disaster and undo everything we’ve done that has brought property tax relief,” Patrick said. “The appraisal cap will undermine what we’ve accomplished. And what did we accomplish? We’re controlling local government spending to three and a half percent by counties and cities, and two and a half percent in our school districts. That’s how you lower property taxes.”
His chamber has its own plan with the support of all 31 senators.
SB 3 by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt would increase the homestead exemption by 75% to $70,000. That’s the amount of a home’s value that is exempt from property taxes. The homestead exemption is currently $40,000.
“An exemption is the most powerful tool we have,” Bettencourt said. “That technique of an appraisal cap is, at best, a one-year break that shifts the tax burden off to other folks that then raises the tax rates… that homestead exemption will be there helping you every year for the next five decades. And that’s why the Senate unanimously backed the homestead exemption bill, because that’s the type of tax relief we need.”
Bettencourt estimated the homestead exemption increase will translate to savings of $341 per year for the average homeowner.
House Democrats say they prefer his plan to their own chamber’s, too.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Trey Martinez-Fischer, however, would prefer the legislature not prioritize property tax relief at all.
“We are very laser-focused on increasing our investments in public education, stopping the defunding of education through private school vouchers, and to make sure that we’re paying our teachers and educators living wages,” he said. “It’s not that Democrats are against tax cuts. Democrats pay taxes too, but Democrats want to fund the essential functions of government. And that’s to educate our future leaders of tomorrow. If we’re not doing that, then what are we doing up here?”