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The Texas Legislature’s special session began Tuesday much in the way that the regular session ended a day before: with the Republican leaders of the House and Senate fighting over property taxes.
In fact, in the hours since Gov. Greg Abbott called them back Monday night to iron out a deal to reduce property owners’ tax bills, the acrimony has only appeared to grow.
Tuesday morning, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick used a speech before a conservative think tank to criticize his counterpart in the House and promote his preferred approach to property taxes. Patrick declared that Speaker Dade Phelan runs a “dysfunctional chamber.”
“It’s time to call some of these things out, because things have to change,” Patrick told a gathering of the Texas Public Policy Foundation in downtown Austin.
Meanwhile, both chambers signaled their plans to move quickly on legislation. Lawmakers filed separate tax bills in both the House and Senate on Tuesday. The House promptly passed their version, House Bill 1, out of the Ways and Means Committee and signaled plans to approve it on the full House floor. And the Senate moved on a competing version.
The swift action followed a remarkable final day of the regular session that saw the House and Senate publicly airing 11th-hour negotiations over property tax plans. Patrick was particularly visible, firing off multiple tweets about the state of negotiations, often jabbing at the House.
After the session ended without a deal, Patrick posted a tweet accusing Phelan of having “left a meeting in a huff with [Abbott] and me last night, killing the largest property tax cut in history.”
Patrick’s Twitter posts offered rare insight into typically secretive negotiations involving legislative leaders and the governor.
Patrick continued his offensive Tuesday, criticizing the House as a dysfunctional chamber and Phelan for giving too much power to Democrats, the minority party. Too many conservative priorities passed by the Senate were sunk in the House, he said.
“This should be easy,” Patrick said, noting that he, Phelan and Abbott belonged to the same political party. “It’s three Republican leaders. I shouldn’t need to take Tylenol three times a day.”
The lieutenant governor said the House needed to speed up action on legislation, particularly earlier in the session, and change rules that currently allow Democrats to undermine key conservative proposals with delaying tactics and points of order, a parliamentary challenge that aims to stall or kill legislation on a technicality.
“I’m tired of the dysfunction of the House in passing legislation to us in a timely manner,” Patrick said. “I’m tired of these points of orders that are called on good legislation.”
But Patrick spent much of his one-hour talk criticizing Phelan over how to best deliver property tax cuts to homeowners and business owners. Texans pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation, according to the conservative Tax Foundation.
Patrick and Senate Republicans wouldn’t accept the proposal if it didn’t include a boost in the state’s homestead exemption on school district taxes — the chunk of a home’s value that can’t be taxed to pay for public schools.
For much of the regular session, the Senate had sought to boost the state’s homestead exemption on school property taxes from $40,000 to $70,000, with another bump for seniors. That would have meant homeowners would have had to pay taxes only on the value above $70,000. That savings would have been available only to homeowners, not commercial or rental properties.
The House, meanwhile, wanted to limit the growth of tax appraisals for all properties to 5%, down from the 10% cap in current law. Patrick didn’t like that idea, in part due to fear that lowering the cap would incentivize people to stay in their homes in order to hold on to that savings. That could lower housing supply and drive up home prices.
In a move to get the Senate to accept a contentious part of the House’s tax-cut proposal, House lawmakers upped the ante by proposing a $100,000 homestead exemption.
But as lawmakers got down to the wire, the proposed homestead exemption fell by the wayside in favor of the cut-and-dry “compression” proposal. That proposal would have sent all $12.3 billion lawmakers set aside this year for new tax cuts to school districts so they could lower their tax rates — an idea known as “tax rate compression.” That savings would spread out the reductions beyond just homeowners to anyone who owned property in the state, including investors, businesses and trusts.
The idea was backed by Abbott and Phelan, but was a nonstarter for Patrick and Republican tax-cut proponents in the Senate.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican and the House’s main tax-cut writer, filed the same proposal in House Bill 1. The House Ways & Means Committee quickly voted to advance HB 1 the same afternoon.
Meanwhile, Patrick doubled down on the homestead exemption proposal Tuesday and presented figures showing that homeowners would pay $1,362 less over two years with a $100,000 homestead exemption.
“I know the governor must be on our side with this,” Patrick said. “I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be. I can’t imagine the governor will say to 5.7 million homeowners, ‘You’re not going to get a homeowner’s exemption.’”
The Senate filed its bill Tuesday, and it advanced out of the Senate Finance Committee the same afternoon, but the language wasn’t immediately available. Patrick hinted that it puts two-thirds of the $12.3 billion toward school tax-rate cuts and the remaining third toward a boost in the homestead exemption.
“Compression is fine, but it can’t be the whole thing,” Patrick said.
A representative for Abbott’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
But Patrick also sought to settle some scores with Phelan over their dueling tax-cut proposals.
Phelan and House tax-cut proponents never presented figures backing up the appraisal cap proposal in negotiations with the Senate. Patrick all but accused Phelan — a real estate broker and partner in a real estate investment firm bearing his name — of trying to benefit himself with the cap proposal.
“In one of those meetings, he said, ‘I own a lot of property, not that it’s about me,’” Patrick said. “Now, anytime anyone says it’s not about me, it’s usually about them. … Now, I’m not saying he was doing that to benefit himself. But I could never figure out why he wanted to do that.”
A representative for Phelan’s office did not immediately return a request seeking comment.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this story.
Disclosure: Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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