With no deal on property taxes in sight, Abbott hints at multiple special sessions

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about the Legislature's recently completed regular session at the Texas Public Policy Foundation office in Austin on June 2, 2023. (Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune, Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune)

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Gov. Greg Abbott indicated Friday that one special session may not be enough to decide how to divvy up $12.3 billion in property tax breaks already appropriated by the Legislature.

The governor also confirmed that he will call a future special session to deal with “school choice,” giving no time frame beyond saying it will take place “after we get property tax reform fixed.”

Recapping the regular legislative session at a Texas Public Policy Foundation event in Austin, Abbott touted a plan that the House approved this week at his request that would lower school district tax rates.

“If we do that, that will cut your property tax rate for school — maintenance and operation — by 29%,” Abbott said.

He made no mention of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who repeatedly criticized the Abbott-endorsed House plan at a Tuesday event hosted by the same right-wing think tank and in several pointed tweets this week.

Patrick argued that the plan favored by the Senate would bring greater tax relief to homeowners, as opposed to the Abbott-backed House plan, which would provide similar benefits to homeowners and commercial property owners.

A Texas Tribune analysis of the proposals found homeowners would save $925 annually under the Senate plan and $486 a year under the House version.

In Friday’s conversation with TPPF CEO Greg Sindelar, Abbott pitched the House plan as a step toward completely eliminating property taxes, a long-term goal of the think tank and many conservatives.

“We must dream big, dream the possibility that we can eliminate property taxes in Texas,” Abbott said. He drew applause when he repeated a refrain of anti-tax advocates: that property taxes are essentially the government forcing homeowners to pay annual rent on their land.

While the Senate plan would provide tax relief by raising the homestead exemption, the House plan would drive down tax rates, which is more beneficial to the goal of completely eliminating property taxes, the Tribune’s analysis found.

Abbott’s favored plan, however, drew no closer to passage Friday. The House approved its bill Tuesday and promptly adjourned, forcing the Senate to either accept it as is or wait for the governor to call another special session for lawmakers to try again.

Patrick, who wields tremendous power over the Senate as its presiding officer, said the chamber would not budge. On Thursday, he took it a step further, saying the plan supported by Abbott and TPPF to eliminate all property taxes “is not realistic and everyone knows it.”

The Senate met Friday for the first time since the House adjourned. With most senators absent for the brief gathering, several border-related bills were referred to committee before the Senate adjourned until 6 p.m. Tuesday. No action was taken on the House-passed property tax bill.

Joshua Fechter contributed reporting.

Disclosure: Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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