AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott says he’s “100 percent confident” state lawmakers will make substantial changes to long-neglected issues: property taxes and school finance.
Abbott listed them as two of his six “emergency items” during his State of the State address. Those items are the only policy areas lawmakers can work on for the first 60 out of the 140-day legislative session.
Property tax and school finance reform have eluded state policymakers for decades. An effort for both fell short two years ago when tensions between the Senate and the House boiled over into fights, causing Abbott to call a special session to keep state government fully operational.
The difference this time, Abbott says, was the 2018 November election. Thirteen Republican seats flipped to the Democratic opposition and voters went to the polls with schools and taxes on their mind.
“Everybody who was elected heard the same message. We all come together, united to achieve results that are going to be helpful to our citizens,” said Abbott in an interview with KXAN.
The problem is keenly acute in Austin, where millions of property tax dollars are sent outside the school district through the controversial “Robin Hood” program that helps property-poor school districts around the state. One of the only ways to slow the growth of property taxes is either to pump billions into the school system or cut services there.
The effort is also different this year because the state has collected more tax revenue off its booming economy, getting lawmakers to ponder about adding $3 to $9 billion to Texas public schools.
Governor Abbott says he’s “100 percent confident” lawmakers will reform both policy areas this session.
“Well, you can’t do one without the other. They are hinged together,” Abbott said. “Importantly, let me emphasize this, when you have property tax reform, one thing it does do is automatically reform Robin Hood, which means the State will be paying a lot more money for the reduction of Robin Hood.”
The property tax reform he rolled out with Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, would force an election when revenue collection goes over 2.5 percent from the year before, voters would then have to approve the new tax rate.
Right now that rate is set at 8 percent and an election happens only if taxpayers gather enough signatures.
While the idea won’t lower property tax bills next year, Abbott says it will save people a lot of money in the long run.
“If the property tax reform is not passed, people’s property taxes will continue to rise by 10 percent or more — which is what they have been doing in a lot of places. Here they will be capped at 2.5 percent increases. You can easily do the math differential,” Abbott said. “I saw a report that just the Robin Hood component in Austin, Texas, would be reduced by half a billion dollars over the first five years. We’re talking real money differential.”
He did not go as far to say that he’ll call a special session if lawmakers cannot pass the changes but he recognizes voters are watching and they want results.
“We are going to take care of all these needs,” he said.