Governor proposes plan to cap local property taxes

Gov. Greg Abbott announces special legislative session. June 6, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Gov. Greg Abbott announces special legislative session. June 6, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – On a day when a winter storm kept many Texans home from work, Governor Greg Abbott unveiled a plan that he says will slow the pace of property tax increases. On Tuesday, the Governor came to Houston to announce his proposal to cap those taxes.

“Enough is enough,” Governor Abbott said at the news conference. He said that local property taxes in Texas rose 195 percent since 1997, forcing some Texans out of their homes. “Texans are fed up with property taxes being raised with impunity,” Abbott said.

The Governor’s plan would put a 2.5 percent annual cap on how much property tax revenue can grow. Any increase beyond that would require an election and approval by two-thirds of local voters.

“This isn’t some new novel idea,” Governor Abbott said. “At least 15 states have across the country have a cap like this on property tax revenue growth.” The Governor called the cap a system to “protect Texans from excessive increases in their tax bills.”

“You know, this is at the top of the polls,” explained Ross Ramsey, executive editor for The Texas Tribune. He noted that Republican voters in Texas list rising property taxes as one of their top concerns. “In fact, it resonates a lot with Democrats, too,” Ramsey said.

Even though many Texans say they want property tax relief, state lawmakers have had little success making it happen. Tax relief bills failed in the latest legislative session. The Governor’s plan aims to slow the pace of tax increases. “They’re not cutting taxes necessarily, but they’re trying to curb growth in the future,” Ramsey said.

Critics of the proposal say a cap does not address the main cause fueling rising property taxes. “The House under Joe Straus said the real issue is declining state funding of the total tab for the school program,” said Robert Garrett, Austin bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News. “So, the share of that paid by property tax payers has been growing,” Garrett said, noting the growing burden on both home owners and businesses.

“Everybody wants property taxes to go down,” Ramsey said. But, state leaders have no easy answers. “If you’re going to lower property taxes, you have to either cut education spending — which no one really seems to want to do — or you have to raise some other tax, which nobody really seems to want to do,” Ramsey explained. “That’s why this is problematic.”

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