BREAKING: State Legislature property tax bill cuts newspaper notice

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UPDATE: We received word Sunday afternoon that the amendment in SB 2 will not cut all tax-related notice requirements from newspapers, just the final adopted tax rate notice. Also, House and Senate actually voted on the final conference committee version of the bill, not an amendment. That final conference committee version - filed quietly late Friday afternoon - included the change in notice requirements for adopted tax rates. On Saturday, both the House and Senate voted to adopt a resolution that allowed consideration of the final version. The resolution explained the change as "necessary to remove the requirement that the designated officer or employee of a taxing unit publish certain tax information in a newspaper." Immediately after adopting the final version, each chamber conducted a straight up-or-down vote on final passage with no further amendments. Both chambers passed the bill, voting overwhelmingly along party lines. 

 

Tonight, in less than one hour, both houses of the Texas Legislature overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the property tax reform bill that eliminates an important public notice in newspapers — a notice informing voters how much their taxes are about to increase.

Ironically, the title of SB 2, the much-ballyhooed “property tax reform” bill that was supposed to make local governments more accountable, is the “Texas Taxpayer Transparency Act of 2019.”  Yet this amendment weakening transparency — which would have caused an uproar had it been debated in an open committee meeting as required by regular legislative rules — was shoved through both houses with less than 48 hours remaining. Rank-and-file members could only vote it up or down.

To add insult to injury, this assault on democracy happened on Memorial Day weekend/high school graduation weekend — a time when few citizens were thinking about the legislature.

It was a textbook case of cynical legislative gamesmanship that clearly had the blessing of legislative leadership.  And it worked. The governor is certain to sign it, since just two days ago he and legislative leaders declared tax reform a done deal. He is not about to veto the bill and force a special session.

In as anti-transparent a manner as one could imagine, the Texas House suspended rules in order for Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, to go “outside the bounds” and introduce a last-minute floor amendment to SB 2. Eight minutes later, the amendment passed 88-50. 

The amendment allows taxing entities such as cities, counties and school districts to merely post a notice online when they are about to raise your taxes. The House approved the amendment and sent SB 2 back to the Senate, which went outside the bounds on a motion by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hill’s, and voted 21-9 to approve it.

The bill also eliminates the requirement of a notice by mail delivery.

So, in Crockett County, which doesn’t have a county website, where many readers have told us they rarely look at the school district website, and where everyone receives their mail at the post office, where is our transparency?

This is a sad day for open government in Texas.

 

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