Special legislative session breathes new life into property tax relief

Houston City Hall Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera

While some lawmakers in Austin are pushing to provide property tax relief to Texas residents and businesses, local municipalities are fighting tooth and nail to keep money in their pockets and keep the status quo.

Texas State Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s Senate Bill 1, would lower the current rollback provision for cities, counties and special district taxing entities from 8 percent to 4 percent, and would not affect school taxes. It will also make rollback elections automatic and put them on November ballots when taxing entities exceeds the limit — bringing those local governments under the same constraints that school districts currently face.

SB 1 (it was Senate Bill 2, The Texas Property Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2017, in the regular session) provides much-needed relief to Texas business owners watching their property taxes increase year after year with little recourse. However, instead of advocating for a bill that would benefit all residents and businesses, local governments have lobbied state legislators to vote down property tax reform legislation.

And unfortunately, it worked.

In the regular session, the legislation was voted out of the Senate but then was stifled in the House Ways & Means Committee. But thanks to the special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott, property tax reform is back on the table. Citing rising property tax bills as his number one priority for the special session, Gov. Abbott stated, “We are hearing stories about people who are being taxed out of their homes because of rising property taxes. You don’t really own your home, it seems like, it’s the appraisers. That must stop.”

The truth of the matter is that cities like Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio benefit from Texas’ burdensome property tax code. While businesses, particularly commercial property owners, have watched their property valuations skyrocket over the past few years, municipalities are cashing in on the record high taxes being collected on Texas properties. It’s time for our municipal leaders to end the money grab and put money back in the hands of hardworking Texans.

Local municipalities launched an assault against Texas taxpayers and were actively lobbying to kill reform efforts during the 2017 legislative session, and are now doing the same during the special session. The Texas Municipal League and Texas Association of Counties are working diligently to keep Texans’ hard-earned money in the coffers of local governments, instead of giving them a new avenue to fight increasing property taxes.

As Texans, we pride ourselves on providing a business-friendly environment for entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams. However, rising property taxes have become a nightmare for small business owners across the state, hampering their ability to grow their business, hire more people and in the worst cases, to keep their business operating.

“Taxpayers know the truth: Property tax bills are rising too quickly,” Bettencourt said in a news release. "Taxpayers in major metropolitan areas throughout Texas are seeing their property tax bills increase 2.3 times faster than their income. This is unsustainable and must be changed. As appraised values go up across the state, Senate Bill 1 will give voters a say in bringing down their property tax bills."

Texas BOMA applauds the efforts of Sen. Bettencourt, as well as the governor and lieutenant governor for identifying ways to bring transparency and accountability to Texas’ taxing entities. We urge state leaders to pass SB 1 and make property tax reform a reality during this special legislative session.

Brett D. Williams

President, Texas Building Owners and Managers Association