The end of the legislative session is little more than three weeks away and some of the most pressing issues are still unresolved.
Bills to control the state’s rising property taxes and allow parents to use public dollars to send their kids to private schools are still in limbo as the House and Senate sort out their priorities for the remainder of the session.
The budget, the only bill the Legislature is legally required to pass during the 140-day session, is also yet to be finalized.
Bill-killing deadlines are rapidly approaching, adding to the pressure. House committees have until Monday to advance House bills, while Thursday is the last day for the full House to initially approve its bills. And keep an eye on May 20, the deadline for House committees to pass Senate bills, a critical juncture given how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priority bills have been piling up in the House.
Patrick has accused the House of moving too slowly this session, predicting an oncoming “train wreck” of piled-up legislation. And he has suggested that he may force a special session if he does not get his way on two of his priorities: property tax relief and power-grid reforms.
With long days ahead and only four weekends before the session adjourns for the summer, here are some of the biggest unresolved issues to follow before the final gavel falls on Memorial Day.
Controlling the rising costs of property taxes is a priority for the state’s Big Three officials: Gov. Greg Abbott, Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan. During his reelection campaign last fall, Abbott promised to deliver the biggest tax cut in the state’s history.
Patrick, who leads the Senate, and Phelan, who presides over the House, agree on the goal. But their chambers have taken vastly different approaches.
In the Senate, Houston Republican Paul Bettencourt has pushed for increasing the state’s homestead exemption from its current $40,000 to $75,000, with an additional $20,000 exemption for homeowners 65 and older. Bettencourt is also pushing for $5.38 billion in additional funds to go toward buying down school district taxes, which are a major portion of property taxes.
The House plan, authored by Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, tackles the issue by limiting appraisal growth to 5% per year and lowering school district taxes by 28% through a $4.5 billion infusion into the public school system.
Each chamber has been hostile toward the other’s plan, with Patrick calling the House proposal “bad math” and Phelan saying House passage of the appraisal cap plan should “send a message” to senators.
But with a historic budget surplus, the two sides have a strong incentive to unite and deliver on Abbott’s tax cut promise. After much hand-wringing by Patrick over the House’s slow pace on priority bills, the Senate moved the House’s property tax bill into committee on Tuesday. The Senate’s bill, which was sent over in early April, remains tied up in a House committee.
Abbott hasn’t put his thumb on the scale for either proposal.
House leaders have never said homestead exemptions are off the table, but a behind-the-scenes conversation on where those exemptions end up could be key to a property tax cut plan.
Budget and other bills that could force a special session
During an April media campaign, Patrick had no qualms with threatening to force a special session if bills he supported did not receive House approval. Under the Texas Constitution, only the governor can call a special session, but Patrick has found ways to force overtime in the past.
“I can’t call a special session,” he said in April. “But I can create one by not passing a key bill that has to pass.”
In 2017, Patrick forced a special session by blocking the passage of a must-pass “sunset” bill that would have extended the life of several state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, after the House did not pass prohibitions on transgender-friendly bathrooms and locker rooms and on his priority property tax legislation.
Patrick could do something similar this year by holding up the state budget or other “sunset” bills that are before the Legislature. Some of the agencies up for review this year are the beleaguered Texas Juvenile Justice Department, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Public Utility Commission, which Patrick has feuded with before.
The two chambers still have some work to reconcile their differences. The House’s budget did not include money for Patrick’s $10 billion push to incentivize the building of natural gas power plants. The Senate, for its part, did not commit $1 billion from the House plan to freeze tuition hikes at public universities and colleges for two years.
That’s all on top of a lack of consensus on a school choice plan. Both chambers have included funding for Abbott’s “education savings account” proposal, but they appear to be far from reaching an acceptable compromise that could pass both chambers.
Patrick laid an unusually early marker for this session when he boldly declared in February 2022 that he wanted to end faculty tenure at public universities. He made good on the promise, designating the proposal a priority bill for the session and passing it out of the Senate late last month.
But it is still unclear how far it will go in the House. The House Higher Education Committee is set to consider the Senate bill in a hearing Monday.
Furthermore, Patrick appears to be on an island within the leadership trio when it comes to his campaign against tenure. Phelan, R-Beaumont, has said he opposes ending tenure, and Abbott was noncommittal when the issue arose more than a year ago.