May 31 ends the 86th Legislative Session and many people in Texas argue the legislators accomplished little, if anything at all, despite leaders’ claims.
Groups that support gun rights, taxpayer protections, pro-life policies, and government accountability argue that it’s more of the same from lawmakers who failed to enact a range of policies supported by many Texans.
Republicans Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announced Thursday they had reached an agreement on three key budget bills: HB1 (the state budget), SB 2 (property taxes), and HB 3 (school finance).
“We told our fellow Texans that we were going to work together side-by-side every single day to solve the problems that Texans face,” Abbott said. “We have lived up to that commitment. We’ve stayed together working collaboratively every single week, every single day, sometimes every single hour.”
HB1 proposes spending the state’s entire $9 billion surplus. The state comptroller announced earlier this month that $500 million in unexpected state revenue would go toward property tax relief, an amount that brought the state surplus closer to $10 billion.
And $500 million out of $10 billion is “peanuts” when it comes to property tax relief, critics argue.
“For the 27 years I’ve been back in Texas, Republicans have studied, made promises, studied, made promises for property tax relief,” JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America – We the People PAC, told The Center Square. The PAC involves a coalition of tens of thousands of engaged citizens statewide.
“Taxpayers are sick of this lather, rinse, repeat sham,” Fleming added. “When the legislature has a $10 billion surplus and Republican leaders cannot figure out how to cut 1 percent in spending and pass property tax reform to provide real property tax relief, it’s very clear we have the wrong people in office.”
The last time the three Republicans announced a joint agreement was on a Friday afternoon about their proposed 1 percent sales tax swap. Economists quickly pointed to data showing how the tax wouldn’t offset property tax costs, and voters called the Capitol expressing opposition. Their joint sales tax measure failed.
SB 2 and HB3 are improvements to two decades of no property tax reform, some say. HB3 caps school property tax increases at 2.5 percent and city and county property tax increases at 3.5 percent before governments would need voter approval to raise them any further. The bills do not abolish the state’s school maintenance and operation property tax, eliminate the appraisal board, or other tax measures Republican delegates identified as priorities.
Vance Ginn, senior economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said the proposed caps would help ensure local spending restraint.
“More than $5 billion of taxpayer money goes toward property tax relief, meaning Texans will actually see their property taxes go down from year to year,” Ginn said.
Overall, “Texas might still be a ‘red’ state, but Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and Speaker Bonnen are on the verge of delivering a heavily blue-tinged purple legislative session,” Michael Quinn Sullivan, CEO of Texas Scorecard, said.
Conservative groups also weren’t happy with Republican Speaker Bonnen killing a constitutional carry bill.
“Earlier this year, Bonnen and others misled the public about issue awareness activities,” Destin Sensky at Texas Scorecard said, referring to a Second Amendment group, TXGR, distributing information about constitutional carry in Bonnen’s neighborhood. This month, Lone Star Gun Rights filed a federal lawsuit against the speaker for claiming the group’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were being violated.
“A major problem we face in the Texas Legislature is the lack of fairness and transparency, including practices such as anonymous ‘tagging’ of bills in the Calendars Committee,” Rachel Malone, Texas Director, Gun Owners of America, said. “For years, legislators have been able to anonymously ‘tag’ bills in order to keep them from passing,” which is why Constitutional Carry died in previous sessions.
“Legislators often deny that ‘tagging’ exists, but they use it to avoid having a vote on a bill,” Malone adds. “That way they never have to go on record opposing a gun rights bill. It just disappears and they can still claim to support gun rights.”
Another blow to conservatives came after a large coalition of advocacy groups urged Republicans to pass a bill ending taxpayer-funded lobbying. Instead, 25 Republicans voted with Democrats to kill it. A recent survey of registered voters shows that 91 percent oppose the practice; 80 percent strongly oppose it.
The Republican trifecta didn’t advance a fetal heartbeat bill, when neighboring Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, a staunch pro-life advocate, is poised to sign the strictest heartbeat bill in the nation, a bill filed by a Democratic state senator.
Bonnen referred Rep. Jeff Leach’s heartbeat bill to a committee chaired by a pro-abortion Democrat, which went nowhere. It also went nowhere because no Republican senator filed a companion bill, critics note.
“The Texas House thwarted all priority bills,” Texas Right to Life argues, with the exception of passing SB22, the No Taxpayer Funding for the Abortion Industry Act.
“Pro-Life advocates everywhere, along with Texas Right to Life, are gravely troubled that representatives abandoned vulnerable Texans and betrayed their constituents in exchange for the left-wing agenda in 2019,” the advocacy group said.
“People are wising up to the fact that campaign after campaign, Republicans promise to cut taxes, pass strong pro-life legislation, return gun rights to us, end taxpayer-funded lobbying, end corporate welfare, repeal the business margins tax, and close access to social welfare benefits to illegal aliens, including in-state tuition, but when it comes time to govern – we get excuses,” Fleming said. “Texans are getting tired of broken promises from state level Republicans who learned nothing from the loss of the U.S. House in 2018. At some point, folks just stop believing and stay home on Election Day.”
This is a revised version of an article first published on The Center Square.