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A state divided — through amendments

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It is becoming more and more apparent that the state of Texas is divided between the rural and the metro areas.  In past sessions, the divide manifested itself through the sheer number of metro legislators compared to those who hail from the rural districts protecting their own district’s interests.

During the regular session though, something interesting occurred. There was a piece of legislation that was amended to purposely separate the rural areas from the metro areas.

When the Senate debated education savings accounts (ESA) legislation on Monday, Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock successfully amended the bill to carve out rural school districts. Basically, if this “school choice” bill becomes law, it won’t apply in rural Texas districts.

Many citizens and elected officials from rural Texas are opposed to the ESA program and did not want to participate. So with that perspective, Perry’s move may have been wise and simply representative of his district.

But on Monday, Perry offered an amendment to SB 2, the property tax reform bill by Senator Paul Bettencourt. The amendment would discriminate between rural and metro areas of the state, dividing Texas in the application of property tax relief based on where people live.

SB 2 would require that citizens be given the option to vote when governmental entities try to increase their property tax rates by more than 4%. Current law sets that threshold at 8%, and Perry’s amendment would ensure it stays that way in rural areas.

County commissioners, mayors, police departments, school districts and other governmental agencies that rely on taxpayer dollars have been clamoring for exemptions like this since the bill was proposed.

This amendment in effect allows metro areas to have a much easier trigger before a rollback election is put before the taxpayer for approval and allows rural areas to increase their rate to double the threshold amount of the metro areas before being required to place the increase before the taxpayer for approval.

Senator Dawn Buckingham amended the Property Tax legislation to require an election in May for those areas that do not automatically fall under the reform to be able to opt-in to the 4% rollback trigger.

If the bill passes the House in its current form, it is possible only 50 counties out of the 254 in Texas contain areas that will see this lower threshold.

The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 17-14.  The vote was as follows:

Ayes:  Bettencourt, Birdwell, Buckingham, Garcia, Huffman, Kolkhorst, Lucio, Menendez, Miles, Nelson, Nichols, Perry, Rodriguez, Schwertner, L. Taylor, Uresti, and Zaffirini.

Nays: Burton, Campbell, Creighton, Estes, Hall, Hancock, Hinojosa, Huffines, Hughes, Seliger, V. Taylor, Watson, West, and Whitmire.

Another bill that has been heard in committee this week that makes distinctions based on population is the Annexation Bill by Senator Donna Campbell.  According to the bill, there will be Tier 1 counties, those with a population of less than 500,000, and Tier 2, those with a population of 500,000 or more.  Tier 1 counties will be able to annex properties without the approval of the landowner.  Tier 2 counties will have to seek landowner approval and will have a procedure to follow to get that approval.

This bill has not yet been placed on the Senate intent calendar.

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One Comment

  1. Rick

    I will not be surprised if each of these bills is challenged in court on equal protection grounds.

    Without these “carve outs” the bills might well have failed. Plainly the 17-14 vote would have been a failure during the regular session.

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