Lawmakers to tackle property taxes, border security in first special session

Gov. Greg Abbott called the special session just after the regular session adjourned Monday.

By Sarah AschMay 30, 2023 10:42 am,

The 88th legislative session adjourned for good on Monday, May 29 around 6 p.m. But that did not mean lawmakers could plan to head home from Austin.

Gov. Greg Abbott immediately called a special session to officially start at 9 p.m. to address two major issues for the Republican party: property tax relief and border security. He also hinted there would be future special sessions this year.

Scott Braddock, the editor of the Quorum Report, said it is unusual for a governor to make an announcement anticipating multiple special sessions.

“No governor has ever done that as far as I can remember,” Braddock said. “I think this may be some sort of a strategy aimed at trying to get lawmakers to move quickly on certain things and then move on to the next things.”

The state constitution allows only the governor to call a special session and set the agenda. These sessions can last up to 30 days, though Braddock said past governors have made promises to wrap up more quickly than that. 

The top item on the agenda this special session is property tax relief, which is a priority for Republican leadership in the House and Senate. 

“They came in with an embarrassment of riches. They had a giant surplus, a record surplus, $33 billion extra dollars,” he said. “What kind of incompetence does it take to have that much extra money and then not figure out what to do with it in the time that was allotted?”

Braddock said he is unimpressed with the various plans lawmakers have put forward to reduce property tax costs for homeowners.

“If you think about the fact that the state of Texas is going to spend $16 billion or so to offer ‘property tax relief,’ that for the average homeowner will amount to something like a Chili’s gift card. How hard is it to give away $16 billion?” he said. “Well, they’re proving that, I guess, it’s pretty hard.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate want to raise the homestead exemption, which lowers property taxes on a homeowner’s primary residence but does not affect rental or commercial properties. Specifically, Patrick wants to raise the exemption on school district property taxes, with an additional boost for senior citizens.

However, House Speaker Dade Phelan wants to cap appraisals, in particular for commercial property. Lowering the appraisal cap would limit how much a property can increase in value over time to keep property taxes down. 

“The lieutenant governor said that after reforms that were made to the property tax system in 2019, that appraisal caps would not make any sense,” Braddock said. “That’s when he started calling the speaker ‘California Dade.’ He was criticizing Dade Phelan for supporting something that looks similar to what they did with Prop 13 decades ago in California.”

The other item on the agenda for this first special session is border security. Braddock said Abbott has been outspoken about cracking down on human smuggling.

“Republicans think they always have to do something more on border security. I will remind your listeners that there is already billions of dollars in the Texas budget for ongoing border security operations,” he said. “(Abbott) says that we need to get even further involved in cracking down on those stash houses where they may be keeping undocumented folks. Look, these are real issues, but I think they’re Band-Aids.”

This special session is also launching in the shadow of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate. 

“If you think of the House as like a grand jury making an indictment, then the Senate is where the trial would happen,” he said. “The Senate said that they will have a trial at some point prior to the end of August. Taking a look at the calendar, June 20 is when the Senate is going to convene to decide what the rules are going to be, whether they’re going to hear from witnesses and all that sort of stuff.”

This process is not connected to the timeline of the special session.

“The Senate can do that whenever they would like,” he said. “If they want to hold trial hours in the morning and then legislative hours in the afternoon, they could do that or they can have the special session on various topics and then have the trial for Ken Paxton later in the year.”

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