AUSTIN — Days after Gov. Greg Abbott used his veto pen to force a compromise on a property tax cut, the Senate and House continued down different paths that show they are no closer to reaching a deal.
The Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a new measure that would provide roughly $18 billion in relief for Texans. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said that would be the largest tax cut in state history and urged House members to return to Austin and pass the proposal.
The House, on the other hand, formed a bipartisan study committee of lawmakers and public citizens who would “make recommendations for long-term, sustainable property tax relief,” according to a statement from Speaker Dade Phelan.
“I want to thank the Texas House for bringing the Senate together,” Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, joked at the news conference Tuesday. “But enough is enough. It’s time for the House and the speaker to come back to Austin.”
The moves are the latest in a special session that has been defined by divisiveness between the Legislature’s upper and lower chamber.
Patrick refuses to jettison his preferred tax cut policy — the homestead exemption. The House plan would reduce school district tax rates by offsetting property taxes with state revenue — which is what Abbott’s asked for. The House adjourned on the first day of the special session after passing its version of tax cuts.
As the impasse persisted, Abbott wielded his veto power like never before in his three terms. He explicitly stated in some veto proclamations that he was striking down the proposals because they were “simply not as important as cutting property taxes,” his numerous veto proclamations.
His 76 vetoes of bills sent to him this session is a personal record for striking down proposals and is the most since former Gov. Rick Perry struck down 82 in 2001. Abbott’s previous record of 58 was set in 2019.
The latest proposal passed by the Senate appears unlikely to satisfy Abbott’s goal of buying down school district property taxes.
“The Governor has been clear that his goal is to put Texans on a pathway to eliminate their school (maintenance and operation) property taxes, and the best way to do that is to devote all property tax relief to cutting property tax rates,” Abbott’s spokeswoman Renae Eze said in a statement.
Eze added that the governor encourages both chambers to work toward a solution.
A week remains in the first special session Abbott called the same day the regular session ended last month. Since then, it has been three weeks of back-and-forth digs among Patrick, Abbott and Phelan, R-Beaumont.
The bad blood escalated when Abbott used his veto power to get back at the Senate. Patrick wasn’t happy.
At a Tuesday news conference, Patrick noted that lawmakers are fast approaching a deadline that jeopardizes the relief for homeowners and businesses.
Voters would have to approve a change to the Texas Constitution in order to accommodate a tax overhaul.
The Legislature has until early August to pass a related measure in order for it to make the November ballot. The Secretary of State’s office recommends proposals to change the Texas Constitution be passed 90 days at the latest due to logistical requirements and state law.
“Right now, we have about six weeks to pass a bill to get it on the November ballot,” Patrick said.
Like Abbott’s proposal, the Senate proposal would compress school district property tax rates by diverting state tax revenue to offset the cut. However, Patrick’s plan uses roughly one-third of the $18 billion package to increase the homestead exemption to $100,000. That exemption, Patrick has said, is essential for any tax plan to pass the Senate.
The new Senate plan slightly increases the school tax buy down and goes a step further than the previous Senate tax cut proposal by increasing a franchise tax exemption, a move that senators said would provide relief to small businesses.
Phelan, meanwhile, wants his newly established committee to study the long-term effects of both homestead exemptions, and his preferred method of tax relief, and capping appraisal increases.
A spokeswoman for Phelan’s office did not respond to messages seeking comment on Patrick’s latest tax plan.
Patrick was highly critical of Abbott using his veto power to try and get the Senate to agree on its property tax plan. The governor struck down 54 laws from the Senate and 22 from the House. Patrick criticized Abbott for vetoing measures simply because he wanted a property tax cut plan.
Abbott “can’t have it both ways,” Patrick tweeted June 15. “He is telling the House and Senate to work together on property taxes while vetoing legislation that the House and Senate worked on together.”
Rebecca Deen, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, said it’s more common for a governor to send signals to lawmakers while a bill is making its way through the legislative process. It’s rare for it to happen once it reaches the governor’s desk, she said.
“We certainly wouldn’t expect it at the stage of veto,” Deen said. “If the governor isn’t able to get his legislative outcome, then he just looks kind of petty.”