A Texas A&M University clinical professor at the Mays Business School said state legislators have analyzed every possible pro and con in their search to rein in soaring property tax bills during the special legislative session, and he doesn’t “see anything that’s been left unsaid.”
“They’ve got some difficult problems on their hands in regards to tax policy, and I don’t have a magic solution,” said Charles Gilliland, also a research economist at Mays.
The Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 1 by a vote of 19-12 just after midnight Wednesday, sending the legislation over to the House. The bill would lower the current rollback rate from 8 to 4 percent, create an automatic election provision if a given entity exceeds the new rollback rate and establish a statewide office for complaint resolution and oversight.
If passed, residents would be able to vote on their property taxes if a taxing entity’s revenue would increase by greater than 4 percent of the revenues they took in over the previous year.
State Rep. John Raney said in a statement that “property tax reform should start at the local level,” but he “look[s] forward to the debate that will be coming soon in the House,” regarding SB 1’s passage in the Senate.
In his statement, Raney called property tax reform “obviously important, but we cannot have a serious conversation about tax reform without stating the importance of public school finance reform as well. Our economic future depends on a well-educated workforce, and if we do not sufficiently invest in our students, then we can expect our workforce and employers to leave us for other parts of the world.”
Gov. Greg Abbott published an editorial Wednesday in the Houston Chronicle about property tax reform, a top priority of his call for a special session.
“We must do more to put a lid on property taxes,” Abbott wrote in the op-ed, titled “Local property tax burden is crushing the Texas Dream.”
Locally, property tax rates were the same in Brazos County in 2016 as they were in 2012, though they rose half of a percent in 2013. The rates rose 9 percent in College Station between 2012 and 2016, 4.5 percent in College Station ISD, 4.6 percent in Bryan ISD and decreased 0.6 percent in Bryan.
As The Eagle reported Tuesday, 2017 property values for all of Brazos County’s taxing entities increased almost entirely across the board: property values in the county grew by nearly $2 billion from certified values from 2016, and valuations increased in the majority of the county’s other taxing districts. The cities of Bryan and College Station saw valuation increases of 11 and 11.4 percent, respectively, while Bryan’s school district saw a valuation increase of around 12,5 percent, compared to an 11.5 percent valuation increase in College Station’s school district.
Mark Price, chief appraiser for the Brazos Central Appraisal District, said though the tax rates had stayed “fairly straight” over the past several years, property values have gone up because of the surge in new construction for homes and businesses.
Rapidly growing areas such as Bryan-College Station need to increase taxes for community needs like schools and infrastructure that arise with an influx of residents, Gilliland said.
“In a growing area, there are demands for public services that sometimes result in increased taxes,” he said. “If you’re looking for tax relief, you have to find some way to either replace the revenue you’re going to forgo, or you have to essentially cut your expenditures.”
But Gilliland said that legislation merely limiting tax rates would only go so far to provide taxpayer relief.
“Limiting tax rates would serve to possibly stop the increases, but for substantial relief, there would have to be actual reduction in tax rates,” he said.
Rep. Kacal and Sen. Schwertner did not respond to requests for comment.