This week, in his State of the State address, Governor Greg Abbott told Texas legislators they needed to act fast to ease the burden of rising property taxes on home and business owners. He urged them to pass SB 2, a bill that would require local governments to get voter approval to raise property taxes by more than 4 percent. The current cap is 8 percent.
Senator Paul Bettencourt, a Republican representing West Harris County, is the SB 2's author. Bettencourt spent much of the past year taking testimony all over the state. He concluded that property taxes are rising at nearly three times the rate of household incomes.
"We're just trying to slow the rate of growth of government and slow the increase of property tax bills," Bettencourt says, "because otherwise they're going to do exactly what the governor said. They're going to tax people out of their home or business."
Opponents of the bill say it would starve local governments of the funds they need to pay for critical services.
"My local elected officials of the county and the city level are overwhelmingly Republican," says Representative Chris Turner of Tarrant County, chair of the House Democratic Caucus. "And they're telling me that these efforts underway in the Senate that the governor endorsed [in his State of the State address] would be devastating to police and fire protection on our city streets."
The bill's critics also point to a flaw in Bettencourt's math. That's because it relies on analysis comparing the aggregate growth of property tax collection to the median growth of household income. "The analysis that the Republican senators are using to justify this bill are mixing apples and oranges, basically violating basic statistical rules," Turner says.
In layman's terms, if 1,000 people buy new homes in a community, the region gains 1,000 new taxpayers. But if their incomes are roughly the same as those of the people living there already, median income remains the same.