Law enforcement, county leaders voice opposition to bill geared at property tax

The bill relates to rollback rates

AUSTIN - Law enforcement officials from across Texas teamed up with city and county leaders Wednesday to voice their opposition to Senate Bill 1 (SB1) at the Capitol. 

"I would urge our senators and representatives to oppose Senate Bill 1 and help us take care of our citizens back home," said Chief Gary Johnson who serves the Roanoke Police Department and is the First Vice President of the Texas Police Chiefs Association.

SB1, by Senator Paul Bettencourt 9R-Houston), would reduce the rollback rate for cities and counties from eight percent to four percent. If cities or counties wanted to increase the property tax rate by more than four percent, they'd need voter approval.

Reducing the rate is something Governor Greg Abbott (R) has repeatedly said he supports.

"Here's the bottom line, we have to cut property taxes in Texas. I would say this is the number one issue we must address," Abbott said at an event hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation the day before the Special Session began. 

Still, many local leaders argue if the legislature truly wanted to impact property taxes, they would address the state's school finance system. In Austin, school taxes make up the largest portion of a homeowner's tax bill. Local leaders also say decreasing the rollback rate will hurt residents, starting with public safety.

"Every year, we see officers killed in the line of duty out in our communities. And without this ability for cities to properly fund us and hire the people we need, we're always going to be behind the curve," said Johnson. 

In Austin, the city spends 70-percent of the general fund on public safety. 

Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant says funding public safety will always come first, but adds other services will suffer if the state reduces the rollback rate. 

"We like our roads to be relatively pothole free," said Elfant. "That may not be as easy in the future when the cities are going to be prohibited from generating as much revenue as they need to address those concerns. You know we like our pools and parks and libraries to be open during the summer with full hours, that may not be as possible."

The Senate already voted to approve SB1 and sent it to the House. The House Committee on Ways and Means amended the bill to make the rollback rate six percent instead of four. Wednesday the House Calendars Committee scheduled the bill to be taken up Saturday and members want to implement a rule that no amendments can be made on the bill, ensuring the rate stays at six percent.

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