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Property tax relief, school voucher funding up for a vote in the Texas House

The Texas Capitol
Gabriel C. Pérez

The Texas House will address its proposed budget for the next biennium Thursday during an anticipated hours-long debate that would also decide the fate of key policy items for Republicans.

The House plan consists of $288.7 billion in state and federal funds, including $130.1 billion in general revenue to spend over the next two years.

House Republican leaders have said the budget tackles some of their priorities, including providing tax relief to homeowners across the state.

In an editorial in the Houston Chronicle last week, House Speaker Dade Phelan said the state cannot ignore the problem.

“It is our job at the Texas Legislature to do what we can to maximize tax savings for Texas taxpayers,” the Republican said.

Under the House plan, over $17 billion would be spent on property tax relief. The money would be used to lower the home appraisal caps to 5%. State law currently allows the appraised value of a home to be raised to no more than 10%.

“That cap would mean that homeowners, renters, business owners, land owners, and owners of any other type of property would have more stability and predictability instead of facing an unexpected and unaffordable, say, 200 percent increase on their property value,” Phelan said.

The Senate’s leader, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, opposes the plan. However, it will likely move forward in the House with the support of Republicans and Democrats alike.

The House budget also allocates $5 billion to public education funding, including an increase to the Basic Allotment, or the state per-pupil funding.

Educators and public school advocates have said that amount is not enough.

“Budgets are a moral document; they tell you what you believe in,” Zeph Capo, the president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, told reporters Tuesday. “And what I see in the budget right now is belief in wealthy landowners, I see belief in corporations. I do not see belief in families.”

Also included in the House budget is about $4.6 billion for border security. The bulk of that money — some $2.25 billion — would go to the Texas Military Department, while about $1.2 billion would go to the Department of Public Safety.

The remaining funds, about $1 billion, would go to the governor’s office according to the Legislative Budget Board’s summary of the bill.

The funding would continue Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, a controversial, state-led border security effort the governor began in 2020 shortly after President Biden took office.

There is also separate, pending legislation, HB 20, by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, which would create a so-called Border Protection Unit to be “headquartered along the border and prioritize the recruitment of individuals who are either residents of or have significant experience with border communities to staff the operation.”

The unit’s duties would include building and maintaining a border wall, along with deterring illegal immigration and drug smuggling, possibly through using non-lethal force to “repel migrants,” according to language in the bill.

The proposed legislation hasn’t been heard in committee yet and its fiscal impact to the state is unclear. But state Rep. Ryan Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, has authored several amendments that include contingency riders to his legislation, HB 7, that would create the Legislative Border Safety Oversight Committee. If passed, the committee would oversee the Border Protection Unit.

Partisan items and amendments

Thursday’s debate is expected to take hours since over 300 amendments have been filed. Some of the amendments seek to strike down or affect some of the most partisan items.

For example, the spending plan includes a provision that prohibits the use of public funds for “Unconstitutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs or Practices,” otherwise known as DEI or affirmative action.

According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, affirmative action is a “set of procedures designed to eliminate unlawful discrimination among applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future.”

The amendment has been a priority for Gov. Greg Abbott.

House and Senate Democrats have opposed the efforts to ban the programs. An amendment filed by Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, would eliminate the prohibition on DEI programs.

Another amendment would prohibit the use of public money for voucher-like programs like Education Savings Accounts and school vouchers.

Abbott and Republican leaders have been campaigning for allowing taxpayer money to be used to pay for private schools. However, most Democrats oppose the plan, and rural Republican lawmakers worry voucher-like programs will take away much needed funding from their districts.

The amendment to prohibit the use of funds for these types of programs was filed by Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown. It has the signatures of Reps. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Stan Lambert, R-Abilene.

Another amendment would reduce the salary of Attorney General Ken Paxton from $153,749 to $1.

The money would be used to settle an ongoing lawsuit brought by a handful of Paxton’s top staff over allegations of corruption.

Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, filed the amendment. In a statement to The Texas Newsroom he said Paxton must be held accountable.

“The Attorney General used his office to benefit his campaign donors,” Talarico said. “He should pay the price for his actions.”

The Texas Newsroom's Julián Aguilar contributed to this report.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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