Property Tax Payer Empowerment Act of 2017: The World is Watching Austin
If you own real property (real estate) in Texas, you pay taxes to the tax assessor known here as “ad valorem taxes.” Property taxes are always a hot topic and source of complaint or debate, depending on how you interpret the shouting that surrounds the issue. The Texas House recently passed legislation in an apparent attempt to increase transparency and simplicity for Texans who pay property taxes.
The House unanimously passed the 2017 Property Tax Payer Empowerment Act (HB 15). Senator Paul Bettencourt (Houston), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Relief & Reform, sponsored Senate Bill 2 – the companion bill – but it did not get through the Senate at the end of the 85th Texas Legislative Session Memorial Day weekend. Also, the House did not appoint conferees to work with the Senate on modifying SB 2 to align with the House version.
Texas residents are waiting for a decision from Governor Greg Abbott as to whether he is going to call the legislators back to work in Austin to attend a special session. If you have been living under a rock or have no access to internet, radio, or television, then you probably have not heard of the other controversial piece of legislation that may prompt a special session, but that is not what this blog is about.
So what is the Property Tax Law that might not be dead and could be considered in a special session? Politicians assert this legislation will make the process by which property tax rates are determined easier to understand by taxpayers, and provide information in a user-friendly format in hopes of facilitating taxpayer participation with local government officials who set the tax rates. Along with making things simpler, another aim is to make filing and participating in a protest a lot easier for taxpayers.
Under existing law, local governments may raise effective tax rates up to 8 percent without taxpayers being able to petition for a rollback election. The “effective rate” refers to the rate needed for the government to raise the same total amount of taxes from the same local properties as the government collected the year before. Under the Senate’s version of SB 2, any of the affected taxing entities could raise ad valorem taxes up to 5 percent with any additional tax increase automatically triggering a rollback election. This apparently is the key impediment to reaching an agreement between the House and the Senate version of the bill. The House’s version leaves in place current law that allows residents to petition a vote if collections increase by 8 percent.
Will this change in the law, and other changes such as requiring the five largest counties to create “special appraisal review board panels” of experts to review values of certain high-dollar properties, equate to “Property Tax Relief & Reform” or will it create extraordinary expenses that will burden city and county budgets? Facilitating protest procedures and setting a lower rate increase to trigger a rollback election requires more municipal manpower to serve the taxpayer.
Taxing entities also would be required to maintain websites that provide information about their budgets, tax rates, and public hearings to encourage and facilitate property owner involvement in the policy decisions that impact their neighborhood and their wallet. While the world is watching our governor for other reasons he has stated, he will make an announcement on a special session as soon as it’s feasible. Stay tuned, as we all know the only things certain in life are death and taxes, and this proposed legislation will be revisited no matter the decision of our governor.