City, school officials respond to Texas leaders' united front on a proposal to cap property tax revenues

State lawmakers are proposing a 2.5 percent cap on property tax revenue growth with identical bills filed in both legislative chambers.

Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2 would require local governments to obtain voter approval in order to collect more than 2.5 percent in additional revenue on existing property compared with the previous year, according to The Texas Tribune, Community Impact Newspaper‘s reporting partner.

The proposed revenue cap would affect cities, counties and school districts. Currently, the law allows them to collect up to 8 percent in additional tax revenue without voter approval.

Gov. Greg Abbott called the effort to cap the rollback tax rate at 2.5 percent “a testament to the voters of this state” at a Jan. 31 news conference. “The voters demanded this, and this demonstrates that the Texas Legislature is responsive to the needs of our voters.”

Others said they aren't so sure.

“It’s a draconian number,” said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, which provides legal, legislative and training services to city governments. “2.5 percent is just extremely low.”

The proposed cap would limit Richardson ISD’s ability to do business, said Liz Morse, the district's chief government affairs officer. While the idea may initially seem attractive to local taxpayers, she reiterated that the proposal merely limits the amount of property tax revenue that can be collected by cities without voter approval. It does nothing to reduce existing property tax payments, she said.

“What you want to think is that your taxes are going down, but that is not the case,” she said. “From a school district perspective … it ties our hands.”

Still, the detriment of property tax caps may be dimmed by what the Legislature does on meaningful school finance reform, something lawmakers have assured school districts is at the top of their agenda this session.

Without that element, Morse said, it’s too early to determine which legislation outweighs the other.

“There is still so much for schools that remains to be seen,” she said. “We stand ready to work with our legislators, and we know there will be some compromise.”

In the 2017 special session of the legislature, efforts to limit property tax revenue growth to 4 percent failed.

Here are reactions from some other North Texas leaders to the latest proposal:

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD

“We just don’t know enough about this bill to give complete details. I will say that if this particular bill is passed and they do not include relief in Robin Hood or contribute more into education, this bill will have a negative impact on GCISD,” GCISD board president Lisa Pardo said.

Carroll ISD

“As a school district we empathize with the increasing burden on home and business owners as property taxes rise. The worrisome issue of these two bills is that they are filed without consideration for how schools will be funded, and that could greatly impact the education of children, not only at Carroll, but across the state. As our lawmakers consider caps for property taxes, we request they give equal consideration to school finance,” CISD board President Sheri Mills said.

The district supports legislation to increase the state's share of funding for public schools to at least 50 percent, said Scott Wrehe, CISD assistant superintendent of financial services. At the same time, he said, the district opposes "legislation that imposes fiscal impact on any school district without corresponding funding or authority for affected districts to automatically increase local tax rates."

Colleyville

“Colleyville does not have a problem with revenue caps as long as citizens can vote to override the cap, for any purpose, with a simple majority vote. This is direct local control by citizens, which is the very definition of local control … A revenue cap must be coupled with strong school finance reform that eliminates or reduces Robin Hood recapture by putting more state money into the school system,” Colleyville Mayor Richard Newton said.

Frisco

“We feel like Frisco should be the model of cities that they’re trying to pass legislation to follow. Something along these lines would actually change behaviors. If this did get approved, we would have to take another look at that homestead exemption … if we can continue to do that,” Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said.

Elsewhere

Several other entities have come out opposed to revenue caps in their legislative priorities set for this session. Among those are the cities of Grapevine, Lewisville, Highland Village and the Texas Association of Counties.

Reporters Olivia Lueckemeyer, Lindsey Juarez, Miranda Jaimes and Emma Freer contributed to this story.

Read more here from The Texas Tribune: Texas leaders want voters to OK property tax revenue growth over 2.5 percent. They couldn't get 4 percent in 2017.

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