If the 86th legislative session were a football game, then the home team — the Texas Tax Reformers, of course — is battling back, with two minutes to go, and there’s a chance for overtime. The good news, at least, is that they have the ball and they’re driving.
With almost every homeowner cheering them on, the Texas House is expected to take up its big property tax reform bill soon. If the proposal, House Bill 2, can survive floor debate and win Senate approval, then it could really turn things around.
One way is by trading complex jargon for more user-friendly terms. For instance, the bill swaps “effective tax rate” with “no-new-revenue tax rate” and could exchange “rollback rate” with “voter-approved rate,” assuming the House matches the Senate’s approach.
Another change subjects appraisal districts to increased scrutiny. The bill directs the Texas Comptroller to ensure that appraisers are complying with best practices set out in appraisal manuals. The push comes in response to public testimony that spotlighted “black box” practices that are helping to fuel skyrocketing appraisals.
But the bill’s best idea involves slowing down rising tax bills.
Under HB 2, cities, counties and certain special districts would be required to get voter approval before raising property tax revenues by more than 2.5 percent. That’s very different from today’s system.
Current law allows local governments to increase revenues by as much as 8 percent before voters can weigh in via a petition drive. Even then, collecting signatures to challenge a tax increase costs a lot of time and money. That’s failed to control taxes or empower voters. Hence the need for new legislation.
But while the bill’s 2.5 percent trigger would move Texas in a positive direction, it may not go far enough.
The current bill draft excludes school districts. And since school district taxes tend to make up the single-largest portion of your tax bill, that means a big part of the problem could go untouched.
Or maybe not.
Here’s where it gets complicated. While HB 2 doesn’t currently cover school districts, it could be amended on the House floor to include that provision. Or lawmakers could add the concept to another bill. Or leadership could be planning something else entirely. No one quite knows yet.
Whichever the case, you can bet plenty of Texans are following along closely.
That’s not to say everyone is rooting for reform. A small but vocal minority support the status quo and would like nothing more than to see HB 2 fail.
But when those naysayers get loud, let lawmakers remember the words of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi: “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle — victorious.”
That same clarity is needed now. The game clock is winding down and the home team hasn’t much time left. Will lawmakers score the winning touchdown or settle for a field goal? Or will they not score at all and send us all into a special session? Only time will tell.