By Richard Lee
AUSTIN — The amount that homeowners can write off of the taxable value of their home before assessment would nearly double under the budget proposed by the Senate on Wednesday.
SB 1, filed by Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, would increase the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000 at a cost of $1.8 billion for the state. Another $12 billion has been earmarked for further property tax cuts to be proposed in separate legislation.
This makes good on a promise made just one day earlier by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as he was sworn into his third term in office.
“The Governor and the Speaker and the members, we’re going to find a way for long term property tax relief with the billions of dollars from this surplus, because you come first — it’s your money,” he said in his inaugural speech before thousands on the north Capitol grounds Tuesday.
Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott laid out property tax cuts as their top priority at Tuesday Inaugural Ceremony. They were also united on the subject of school choice, saying that this will be the session in which the state joins 30 others in passing some sort of choice program.
Though the legislation is still forthcoming, such measures typically allows parents to withdraw their students from public school and take the amount the state is spending to educate them to go to a private school. This plan has faced staunch opposition in the past, especially from small, rural districts who need every dollar they have.
Patrick said this session, the plan will ensure these rural schools are taken care of.
“The Governor and I will have a plan to protect those schools financially and to make sure those parents have choice also,” Patrick said. “We are going to pass school choice.”
Another issue both men raised in their inaugural addresses is electric grid stability. With the 2021 winter storm still fresh in the minds of lawmakers, there will likely be a bevy of bills aimed at ensuring the lights stay on in Texas no matter what.
Abbott praised last session’s efforts toward that goal.
“Last summer we set 11 all-time power generation records and last month, we weathered brutally freezing temperatures across the state all without any disruptions,” he said, “This session we will build a grid that will power this state, not for the next four years, but for the next 40 years.”
Patrick was more specific about plans for stability, saying that the state must incentivize dispatchable generation, like natural gas plants, in order to ensure there is plenty of electricity to meet the demands of one of the fastest growing states in America.
“We need dispatchable energy we can count on. We will add more megawatts of thermal generation and strengthen the grid,” he said.
Many of the priorities laid out by Patrick for the session are well-represented in the Senate draft budget released Wednesday afternoon. It includes $350 million for rural law enforcement, and $2.5 billion to create a university fund for institutions outside the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems. It would allocate $4.6 billion towards state border security efforts, more money for state hospitals and mental health services, and $228 million towards foster care reform.
Huffman, in her first session heading up the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement accompanying the release that the budget continues the conservative and sustainable spending policies that have left Texas in such an advantageous position. She also acknowledged that there is still much that could change between today and when a final budget, passed by both chambers, is presented to the governor for his signature.
“The base budget is a starting point, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop a conservative and sustainable budget that addresses our needs and strengthens our economy.”
The Senate reconvened Tuesday.