There is no dirtier slur in Texas Republican politics than describing something as like “California,” and the term has now entered the property tax debate in the Texas Legislature.
That there will be some property tax reform this session is a given. With a $30 billion tax surplus, everyone from the governor down is planning on rewarding the wealthiest Texans with property tax relief, but there are currently two schools of thought. In the Senate plan, the homestead exemption would be increased to $70,000, $100,000 for seniors and disabled people. It would cost $16.5 billion.
The House bill is similar, but contains a controversial element that would cap how much taxable value a main residence can rise each year. The bill would also expand the cuts to business owners and apartment complexes. Lowering the cap from 10 percent to 5 percent would benefit long-term property owners, but could saddle new homeowners with comparatively massive property tax bills.
A new poll done by the Texas Association of Property Tax Professionals found that Texans vastly prefer the Senate version by 70 percentage points. However, House Republicans noted that the trade organization is in the same industry that the Senate plan’s chief architect, Paul Bettencourt (R-Republican) makes his living in, and that the executive vice president of Bettencourt’s property tax company sits on the board of the trade group.
Also, the poll was worded to call the House modeled after a system used in California.
It is true enough that that the House plan is similar to California’s Prop. 13 instituted in the 1970s. Experts have weighed in since if Texas were to adopt a similar plan it could be devastating to new home buyers and overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. That didn’t stop House Republicans from calling foul on the use of the Golden State’s name as loading the dice on the poll.
“A trade association…whose members make $$$ off of taxpayers trying to lower their appraised values is texting into member’s districts trying to stop a bill (HJR1) that would keep property valuations from increasing rapidly! Their hypocrisy knows no bounds!!” tweeted Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock).
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff Leach (R-Allen) replied simply “Truth.”
Despite the accusations, Bettencourt stands by the poll, saying it was right while speaking to the Quorum Report.
Missing from the discussion is talk of reducing sales tax, which is largely responsible for the massive surplus in the first place. Instead, talk of tax relief has centered almost entirely on homeowners rather than renters. The Senate plan for tax relief may be better for middle class Texans, but it would still only benefit the 67.5 percent of residents who own a home. The House bill also excludes LGBT couples with kids from reaping the benefits. The only good news for sales tax relief is that the House has made exempting menstrual products and some baby supplies from sales tax a priority.
A vote on the House version is expected today.