AUSTIN, Texas — One of Gov. Greg Abbott's top priorities for the Texas Legislature is moving forward. The Senate passed a bill Monday to slow the growth of property tax bills by reducing how much cities, counties and schools can increase taxes without voter approval.
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As it was amended and passed, Senate Bill 2 will reduce the rate cities, counties and other special district taxing entities can increase property tax rates without voter approval from 8 percent to 3.5 percent. It reduces the rate for school districts to 2.5 percent.
The rate reduction applies to revenue generated from existing properties, not new construction. It applies to all cities that collect more than $15 million a year in taxes and even those smaller communities will have an election to opt-into the reduced rates. It was approved on a 18-13 vote, with all of the Democrats and Amarillo Republican Kel Seliger voting against it.
During the hours-long debate on the floor, Senate Democrats tried to amend the bill to carve out costs for first responders and schools, but those efforts failed. Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) was able to add an amendment so that cost associated with providing indigent defense legal services are not calculated in the rate.
"We heard a lot of comments on the floor, well respected, from those in opposition who were concerned about cities and counties and their budgets," Lieutenant-Governor Dan Patrick told reporters after the bill passed. "We're concerned about the people's budget. That's what we're concerned about. People's ability to live in their homes and keep their businesses."
The vote came after a bit of political drama. The Senate Committee on Property Taxes voted SB 2 out of committee early in the session but there weren't enough votes to suspend the Senate's rules to take a vote on it.
The Texas Senate has a decades-old tradition of suspending the regular order of business and taking up bills out of order as there is enough support to pass them. Lawmakers say this ensures they are a collaborative body that respects each other's voices. In order to suspend the rules, it takes a two-thirds vote, or 19 senators.
Last week, the House planned to vote on its version of the bill until the Senate announced it would vote on SB2 the same day. The House decided to delay, but Patrick and the bill's author, Houston Republican Paul Bettencourt, still weren't able to secure enough votes to bring it to the floor. Sen. Seliger, a former mayor, does not support the bill.
Patrick said he would resort to the so-called nuclear option and bring the bill up for a vote another way, but on Monday Seliger said that wouldn't be necessary, stating he while he would vote against the bill itself, he would preserve the tradition of the body and vote to bring SB 2 to the floor, but not before speaking on power and statesmanship.
"I am not voting in favor of this bill. I'm not voting in favor of doing away with rules that see to it that we treat each other thoughtfully," said Seliger. "I'm voting for the Texas Senate."
While talking to reporters after the vote, Patrick made his own comments on statesmanship.
"Being a statesman is when you run for office you tell the people what you're going to do and then you go do it because that's what you're supposed to do. That's a statesman. And you don't get tangled up in some procedures and practices that the people back home don't know about and don't care about. What they want is tax relief. And my job as lieutenant-governor is keeping my promise to the people and that's what we did today," said Patrick.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
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