Texas officials call it "property tax relief" — but legislation won't lower tax bills or decrease budgets

The fight over property tax rates is really about state leaders telling local officials how much their revenues can grow before voters get to step in.

By Ben Hasson
By Ben Hasson

In Texas, property taxes keep local governments like cities, counties and school districts operating and pay for everything from police officers' salaries to classroom textbooks. Here's how the taxes are calculated and how they could change in the 2019 legislative session.

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*Correction appended

In Texas, property taxes keep local governments like cities, counties and school districts operating and pay for everything from police officers’ salaries to city street repairs and classroom textbooks.

But in recent years, Texans have complained about rapidly rising property tax bills, and state lawmakers have vowed to slow such increases — even though state officials don’t set local tax rates.

Because school district taxes make up about half of tax bills, lawmakers have vowed to pour money into public education after years of allowing skyrocketing local revenue to decrease the state's share of school funding.

Legislators are also eyeing major changes to how local governments other than school districts set their tax rates.

Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2 — both dubbed the Texas Property Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2019 — won’t provide across-the-board cuts to property tax bills. Instead, the bills would limit the amount of revenue that local governments like cities, counties and special districts can collect without voter approval.

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When those local governments set their tax rates for the year, they do some basic math and look at how much money they collected the previous year and whether the same properties they're taxing saw any changes to their appraised values. To help Texans understand how that math works, the example below shows how a hypothetical city calculates the tax rate that determines how much its residents will pay in property taxes.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized state lawmakers' role in reducing the state share of school funding.

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