City, state leaders argue tax relief and local control ahead of hearing

FILE - Austin City Hall (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Austin City Hall (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill formed to curb the growth in local property taxes would make some decisions by city councils more difficult to implement. Tuesday morning, a panel of influential senators will hear out the idea.

It only takes a stroll through downtown Austin to see the city growing. Rising property values continue to drive up the cost of living here. Lawmakers in town for the legislative session want to lower your bills.

Sen. Paul Bettencour, R-Houston, authored the legislation after a statewide tour between the 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions. “You can’t have government grow double digits and not expect to knock taxpayers through the loop, either at their home or at their business.”

One of the measures in Sen. Bettencourt’s Senate Bill 2 would require voters to hold an election and approve any tax burden increase more than four percent — an idea that could save the average Austin homeowner $32 next year but leave $15 million out of the city budget.

Senator Bettencourt told KXAN that city officials will have to decide which programs are the most important. “Your home budget has to prioritize, your work budget has to prioritize, and we just have to get government to prioritize.”

“Four percent will not be enough for this city to provide basic services every year,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

He says Sen. Bettencourt’s idea is an intrusion into city decisions and impedes the “liberty” of local voters who chose their own city leaders.

“This is about government that is closest to the people being able to be responsive to the local voters. If the voters don’t like what their local elected officials are doing they change them out,” said Mayor Adler.

Despite outrage from city governments across the state, a similar bill is filed in the House and both have big support at the Capitol.

SB 2 would require an additional election for city and special taxing districts. However, school taxes are often the major driver of property tax growth. Austin gives hundreds of millions of dollars back to the state through its Robin Hood system of school finance.

The public can sign up to share their thoughts Tuesday at 8 a.m. in the Senate Finance Committee at the State Capitol.

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