The 86th biennial session of the Texas Legislature is addressing issues ranging from the mundane to life-changing – scooter regulation, possession of marijuana, hemp farming, and refusal of services due to faith.
A slew of proposals would regulate medical concerns; other bills address sexual misconduct. This is a very small sampling.
Legislators’ top three bills are intertwined: the budget, also known as the Appropriations Act, property tax reform and school finance. The first order of business is to craft a budget, although it usually does not get approval from both chambers until near the end of the session and its final form will be heavily dependent on promised reforms of property taxes and school finance.
The sticking point is which of these two goals is most important. The Senate would first curb rising property taxes and then increase school funding, while the House favors increased spending on schools before lowering property taxes. The House has gotten out the top three bills and the Senate was scheduled to hear the school finance bill on May 6.
Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, said property tax relief is the Senate’s first priority, but the issue is divided along party lines.
“Democrats have been in favor of increasing funding for schools and reducing runaway property taxes. Republicans have been in favor of reducing runaway property taxes and funding the schools. You know, it’s number one and two for both,” said Johnson, the freshman senator for District 16, which includes Richland.
Key Republican state lawmakers, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Governor Greg Abbott, have proposed raising the sales tax by a cent from 6.25% to 7.25%. With the 2% that goes to taxing jurisdictions like municipalities, Texans would pay a total of 9.25% in sales taxes.
Lawmakers estimate that would raise $5 billion to help property tax cuts, according to the Texas Tribune.
Johnson said that he doesn’t see a high enough level of support from either chamber for raising sales tax. He said there might be support for a fraction of a cent if some revenues brought in went to schools that serve low-income children. The senate plan for school finance has a $5000 raise for teachers and librarians while the house plan gives schools more discretion in how funds are spent.
“We already have a regressive tax system in Texas. I’m not a fan of the sales tax,” Johnson said.
In addition to the sales tax increase, proposals for reining in property taxes include decreasing the amount of tax a municipality can impose without having to call an election.
Currently, it can levy up to 8% without having to call an election. Legislators would curb that to 3.5% or less.
The House version of the bill leaves the 8% rate for hospitals and community colleges and also allows a $500,000 increase in taxing for any entity without requiring an election.
The legislature wraps up May 27.