AUSTIN, Texas — A pair of Republican-backed bills that seek to reign in local spending across Texas has the Legislature divided, but the bills appear to have most local governments united in opposition.
- Lawmakers testified at State Capitol on Senate Bill 2
- Bill would cap the annual increases in property tax revenue at 2.5 percent
- Similar bill is also being debated in the House
"They are looking for their property taxes to be addressed in a way that they don't lose their homes," said Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who sits on the Senate Committee on Property Tax.
Elected Republicans and Democrats from cities and counties statewide came to the State Capitol Wednesday to testify on Senate Bill 2. As members of the Texas Municipal League, they held a news conference Tuesday to lay out their concerns with the legislation.
"We have to have public school finance reform before we can have true tax reform," Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston, a Republican, said.
Johnston said the impact of SB2, which would cap the annual increases in property tax revenue at 2.5 percent, would force the county to approach operation and maintenance expenses differently.
"Instead of us paying for new patrol cars, we would have to go out for debt to do it," he said, which would result in higher costs over time for taxpayers.
State leaders admitted at the committee hearing Tuesday part of the problem is rising home values. Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said some parts of Texas have experienced a tripling of home values over the past decade.
Elected leaders from the San Antonio area were unable to attend Wednesday's hearing, but Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, a Democrat, told us he does not support the revenue cap being lowered to 2.5 percent.
"It is eight percent now," he said. "I supported reducing it in the last session down to six. All we live on, most of everything we live on, is new construction."
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said that's a similar situation for governmental bodies in his region.
"If it wasn't for the school taxes, we would be having a very different conversation," Adler said.
He said Austin property tax bills, with schools removed, have only increased 2.4 percent the past six years.
"That tax, the school tax, that has gone up 385 percent in just the last six years is what we are all feeling," Adler said.
A similar bill, House Bill 2, is poised to be heard in the Texas House of Representatives and likely followed by intense debate in both chambers.