The Texas Senate moved a step closer to delivering a bill that would provide property tax relief, and it was done without Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick having to use the so-called “nuclear option,” which he had threatened was a possibility.
Senate Bill 2 passed late Monday after Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) joined fellow Republicans in allowing the bill to reach the floor of the Senate for debate. Had Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor who opposes the property tax legislation, not made such a move, Patrick had indicated he might discard decades of Senate procedural tradition requiring 19 votes from among the 31 senators and allow a simple majority be necessary for a bill to be debated on the floor.
“We have a way to do things that I think is important,” Seliger said in our story. “It underscores that we must be willing to compromise.”
The bill ultimately passed 18-12 in some of the session’s highest drama yet as Seliger voted against it with 11 Democrats (Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a Brownsville Democrat, voted present).
Had Seliiger not provided the important 19th vote to begin with, the bill, a priority of Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas homeowners and business owners across the state, could have been thwarted, a development that prompted the lieutenant governor to float the idea of circumventing procedure.
“I respect our Senate rules, but I do not intend to let a procedural motion stop the Senate from passing this important bill,” Patrick said in published reports last week. He later said if the “nuclear option” was the only choice left, he would choose it.
Give and take from the running Patrick-Seliger feud aside, Senate Bill 2 moved a step closer to becoming law after several key amendments made it more palatable.
The bill limits how much taxing authorities can collect in revenue, according to our story, but it has faced pushback from local officials who say the proposal would have a negative impact on budgets, including a pronounced and dramatic effect upon public safety.
The updated version of the bill will force cities, counties and other taxing entities to receive voter approval before raising 3.5 percent more property tax revenue than the previous year, the Texas Tribune reported. This is a change from the 2.5 percent figure originally proposed. Meanwhile, school districts still would face the 2.5 percent threshold under the approved version.
One other amendment allows money counties spend on indigent defense to be partially excluded from the revenue growth calculation. The amended version of the bill also includes measures meant to bring transparency to the appraisal and taxing process.
The House will take up property tax legislation next week. It remains to be seen if more progress will be made on the bill. The House and Senate have deadlocked on this issue previously with impasses over proposed 4 and 6 percent thresholds, respectively, in 2017, according to the Tribune.
The Legislature still has plenty of work, and probable compromise, before it in the weeks ahead. The House version includes exemptions of taxing authorities that some suggest will result in little property tax relief for the average Texas homeowner and seems a likely point of contention.
Property tax has been a signature item of this session, but lawmakers have more hurdles to clear before “meaningful” relief becomes “measurable” reality for all Texans.