Texas property taxes will keep climbing under SB 2

Kenric Ward
Posted: Mar 22, 2017 12:38 PM
Texas property taxes will keep climbing under SB 2

Texans looking for property tax relief won’t find much in Senate Bill 2 because lawmakers half-stepped the process.

AP photo

SLOWDOWN: Sen. Paul Bettencourt says his SB 2 will bring tax relief in future years.

Homeowners in just 10 of 34 cities and counties would realize any savings under the bill passed by the Senate Tuesday.

The annual reduction on an average homesteaded property was calculated to range from $12.77 in San Antonio to $81.25 in Bryan, according to an analysis obtained by Watchdog.org.

Homeowners in several metro areas — including Tarrant [Fort Worth] and Nueces [Corpus Christi] — would see no change.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, hailed SB 2’s passage, saying his measure would “help slow the growth of future property tax bill increases.”

But Galveston County Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl Johnson said promises of reform and relief are exaggerated.

“There is no tax relief in this bill. SB2 is a waste of time for individual homeowners,” declared Johnson, who compiled the study.

“Twenty-one million homeowners will see no relief from SB 2,” she told Watchdog in an interview.

If Johnson’s assessment is correct, SB 2 could haunt state Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, for again failing to deliver substantive property-tax relief.

Amid much fanfare, the 2015 Legislature raised the homestead exemption with promises of lower levies, but property tax bills continue to soar.

Galveston County photo

DO MORE: Galveston Assessor Cheryl Johnson says Texans won’t get property tax relief until appraisals are capped.

Johnson said the Republican-dominated Legislature’s piecemeal approach is doomed to fail.

“SB 2 is only one piece of the puzzle, and the GOP will lose elections because of this,” predicted Johnson, a Republican.

Until appraisals are capped, Johnson said tax bills will keep climbing. So she recommends a complete overhaul.

Lawmakers should “freeze everything and rewrite the [tax] code,” said Johnson, who favors a “price-paid” appraisal system to effectively freeze residential taxes while transferring commercial/industrial appraisal responsibilities to the state comptroller.

“That would spread the wealth across the state and equalize education funding. Then we’re done,” she said.

“If we don’t get a cap bill, do [legislators] want to come back in two years and do it all over again? It’s time to man up,” Johnson said.

Lawmakers appear more interested in nibbling around the margins, however.

Just before the clock struck midnight, the Senate Finance Committee lifted the lid on tax revenue increases from 4 percent to 5 percent to conform to a softer bill in the House — further eroding whatever small savings taxpayers might receive.

Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at kward@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @Kenricward