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Gov. Greg Abbott called an immediate special session Monday night, just hours after lawmakers completed the year’s regular legislative session without passing numerous key bills state leaders had identified as priorities.
Abbott said in a statement the special session officially began at 9 p.m. Monday and will be focused on property tax relief and border security. “Many critical items remain that must be passed,” Abbott said, which he asserts will require multiple special sessions.
Republican lawmakers had identified using a large part of the state’s budget surplus to lower property taxes for Texas homeowners and business owners as a priority, but failed to reach an agreement. It appeared lawmakers were expected to return to work Tuesday, which the leaders of both chambers hinted at in closing Monday.
“We must cut property taxes,” Abbott said in the statement. “During the regular session, we added $17.6 billion to cut property taxes. However, the legislature could not agree on how to allocate funds to accomplish this goal. Texans want and need a path towards eliminating property taxes. The best way to do that is to direct property tax reduction dollars to cut school property tax rates.”
Texas lawmakers carved out $17.6 billion for property tax cuts in the two-year spending plan they adopted this year. Of that, $5.3 billion is for tax cuts they would have had to pay for anyway because they committed to them in 2019.
Legislators want the remaining $12.3 billion to go toward new cuts. But they failed to reach a compromise by the time the regular legislative session ended Monday.
The agenda for the first special session will focus on slashing property tax rates “solely by reducing the school district maximum compressed tax rate in order to provide lasting property-tax relief,” Abbott said in his statement.
That means Abbott wants lawmakers to take all $12.3 billion set aside for new tax cuts and send it to school districts so they can lower their tax rate. Homeowners and business owners alike would be paying a lower tax rate under such a plan.
But doing that alone isn’t enough, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Republican tax-cut proponents in the Senate have argued. Patrick and state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican and the Senate’s chief tax-cut writer, have sought this year to increase the state’s homestead exemption on school district taxes — the amount of a home’s value that can’t be taxed to pay for public schools — as a means of providing direct tax relief to homeowners.
Patrick rejected a late-in-the-game proposal backed by Abbott and seemingly accepted by House Speaker Dade Phelan that didn’t include an increase in the homestead exemption.
Additionally, the agenda will focus on “increasing or enhancing” penalties for crimes involving smuggling people or operating a stash house.
Only the governor can call a special legislative session. Lawmakers can only pass bills related to the agenda the governor sets.
Joshua Fechter contributed to this story.
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