From the Quorum Report:
By: Scott Braddock
Chairman Bettencourt opens hearings on property tax relief
Both TML and TAC, key stakeholders, were caught off guard by the fact that Sen. Bettencourt dived right into hearings this week
The newly-created Texas Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief began its work this week – work that is slated to include a statewide tour to gather testimony from people far and wide. Given that, some longtime Texas Capitol observers found it somewhat ironic that the first hearing took key stakeholders by surprise.
Even though the hearing on Monday was posted as an “organizational meeting,” Chairman Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican and close ally of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, opted to dive right into the issue with invited testimony.
Representatives from the Texas Municipal League and the Texas Association of Counties, two key stakeholders, both said they were caught off guard by the fact that hearings are already underway. Bennett Sandlin, Executive Director of TML, said the group “looks forward to helping the committee understand city services and revenue sources.”
Some critics of the Senate under Lt. Gov. Patrick’s leadership have said over the last year that key stakeholders have been shut out of policy discussions ranging from “open carry” of handguns to urban drilling and tax policy.
Quorum Report readers will likely remember that during this year’s legislative session, lobbyists of every stripe complained that for the first time in memory, they were banished from Senate Finance work group meetings in which the actual Senate budget is largely written.
Not only were the cities and counties not represented in the hearing, neither of the Democrats on the committee – Sen. Carlos Uresti and Sen. Eddie Lucio – were in attendance as the hearings opened.
“Today is the next step in the process to deliver meaningful property tax relief and appraisal reform for all Texans,” said Bettencourt on Monday. “The recent victory of Prop 1 with 86% of the vote is indicative of Texans’ frustration with this out of control system.”
As to any concerns about a lack of input from important stakeholders, Bettencourt told QR “committee staff posted the meeting with no public testimony to make sure that members of public didn’t attend expecting to testify, but it was left open at the time to call invited Comptroller resource witness testimony if that could be arranged.”
After saying he is a “rookie chairman,” Sen. Bettencourt began the meeting by pointing out that in the decade between 2003 and 2013, statewide property tax values went up $1.85 trillion or 86 percent.
Property taxes on homeowners are rising exponentially faster than household income, Bettencourt said. He said those tax bills are going up “6 times faster than Texas paychecks.”
“We can’t afford this as a public policy statement over the long term,” Bettencourt said. “Clearly we have a problem and this committee intends to tackle and solve it.”
During the hearing, which lasted about an hour and a half, representatives from the Office of the Comptroller testified about basic information regarding the property tax system.
Their overview of the property tax system can be viewed in full by clicking here.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Gov. Patrick said “The Senate did not waste any time during the last legislative session and we are not slowing down now.” Patrick praised Sen. Bettencourt for getting underway with the hearings and said the committee will work to “find solutions that will ensure every Texan receives lasting property tax relief.”
$6,000 was approved for the committee to go on its tour of the state, Bettencourt said. The next hearing will be January 27 in San Antonio.
(Copyright December 9, 2015, Harvey Kronberg, www.QuorumReport.com, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission.)