- Chuck Lindell American-Statesman Staff
The special session of the Legislature came to an abrupt end Tuesday night, a day earlier than expected, when the Texas Senate adjourned without acting on a House-passed version of a property tax bill.
The House began the late-session drama when it unexpectedly closed the special session with one item pending — a conference committee on Senate Bill 1, which would have required larger cities and counties to get voter approval for property tax increases.
Senate Republicans wanted automatic elections for increases of 4 percent or more. The House settled on a 6 percent trigger, and by adjourning early, House leaders told the Senate to take the 6 percent rate or leave it.
Later Tuesday night, the Senate chose to leave it.
“Some days the Texas Capitol does not recognize the obvious, and that’s what happened today,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, author of SB 1. “We are not going to accept the take-it-or-leave it proposal from the House and we are going to fight another day.”
Bettencourt blamed the House for putting the Senate in the position of having to reject SB 1 for failure to provide needed property tax relief. But Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said meaningful relief will not happen until the state pays a larger share of public school funding — the largest portion of Texans’ property tax bills.
“Let’s not ignore the responsibility the state has in funding our public school system,” Hinojosa said.
Even with a 4 percent rollback rate, “you still have a heck of a problem with school finances,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.
In the end, Bettencourt predicted that “Texas taxpayers will be furious” by the Legislature’s failure to address property taxes with SB 1.
“I hope the governor calls us back as soon as possible” for another special session, he said.
For his part, Gov. Greg Abbott was silent on the session’s end. He signed three bills on Tuesday, bringing the total number of special session bills he’s signed to five. Four more bills await his signature, including a House measure relating to tree regulations on private property that’s a far cry from what he demanded and similar to a bill he vetoed in June. The only other bill to reach his desk relating to reining in municipal powers was one that restricts the annexation authority of cities in large counties.
Likewise, lawmakers didn’t pass bills restricting transgender bathroom use, an emphasis of social conservatives, or limiting state spending, a cause of fiscal conservatives.
Abbott has asked lawmakers to pass bills related to 20 issues. Just nine and a half of those reached his desk.