The Austin Chronicle

Property Tax Hack Finally Gets Senate Nod

By Mike Clark-Madison, April 19, 2019, News

For two months, the 2.5% property tax revenue cap legislation launched in January has been stalled in both chambers, as lawmakers try to sort out how the "relief" and "reform" proposals will impact local government budgets – including school districts – at the same time as they overhaul school finance. In the Senate, where Senate Bill 2 flew out of committee as fast as possible, the holdup has been Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, a former mayor who opposes the bill's draconian fiscal limits, and who cares little for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Without Seliger's assent, under Senate rules SB 2 could not reach the floor, leading Patrick to fuss and fume and threaten a "nuclear option" until Seliger finally backed down on Monday. From there, the SB 2 debate went predictably: As a concession to cities, counties, and other taxing districts who (unlike the schools) don't receive much state aid, the bill now proposes a 3.5% rollback rate (compared to 8% under current law) for those entities. That minimal gesture was all Democrats and local leaders were going to get, as bill author Sen. Paul Betten­court, R-Hous­ton, turned back one amendment after another to soften SB 2's impact on different places, services, and constituencies, leading to the final 18-13 party-line (except for Seliger) vote. (For Betten­court, who thumped this tub for years as Houston's tax collector before taking Patrick's Senate seat, forcing cities to ask their voters each year to approve their budgets – an effective impact of SB 2 – is not a bug but a feature.)

Next week, the chambers trade places, with the House tackling property taxes and the Senate school finance; conferees will then sort out the final package and make it conform to the approved biennial budget...

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