On Monday, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced his legislative priorities for the ongoing 88th Legislative Session.
Generally speaking, low bill numbers are reserved by leadership in both legislative chambers to reflect their prioritized legislation. As such, Patrick has indicated 30 priorities, Senate Bills 1 through 30. Texans for Fiscal Responsibility will track all of them as they move through the legislative process, but only a few are of keen interest based on issues we frequently opine on, which include property taxes, government spending, and school choice. In his announcement, Patrick noted:
Just because a bill does not make the priority list does not mean it is not a priority for me or the Senate. We will pass over 600 bills this session. As I like to say, every bill is a priority to someone, otherwise, we would not pass it.
Patrick went on to say, “This year, several of our policy initiatives are already addressed in the budget, as opposed to specific bills.”
The Legislature is collectively unable to act on any legislative priorities in the first 60 days of the legislative session unless they are deemed emergency items by the governor. Texas Governor Greg Abbott is scheduled to give his State of the State address on Thursday of this week, where it is likely he will name some issues as an emergency for the Legislature to potentially consider before that 60-day mark. That same 60-day threshold marks the deadline for lawmakers to file legislation to be considered during the 88th Legislative Session.
Property Tax ‘Relief’ Proposals
Though it has not been filed as of this publication, we know from Patrick’s previous comments that his version of legislation addressing the growing property tax burden in Texas will attempt to do so by increasing the homestead exemption threshold.
His proposal to increase the existing homestead exemption amount of $40,000 to that of $70,000 will take the form of Senate Bill 3. TFR has been critical of this approach to property tax relief in the past, as we do not believe it is an effective means to provide tax relief to Texas taxpayers. Previous efforts have almost immediately been rendered useless due to things like inflated appraisals. It also only works to shift the burden to those who might not qualify for such an exemption.
Additional property tax relief has taken the form of Senate Bill 4. The actual amount or form the property tax relief would be in is unknown, as the legislation is not yet filed. Included in the base budget proposals of both legislative chambers, however, is that of $15 billion earmarked for such a purpose. As we have explained previously, the actual number is much lower once you consider that $5.3 billion of it is allocated to maintaining previous relief in the form of M&O (Maintenance & Operations) tax compression from House Bill 3 (2019) and $3 billion of it is allocated to the aforementioned homestead exemption increase—leaving only $6.7 billion in proposed relief. Again, it is unclear what Senate Bill 4 contains.
Patrick also included Senate Bill 5 as one of his named legislative priorities. Again, not currently filed, this legislation would increase the Business Personal Property Tax Exemption, which currently sits at a $2,500 threshold. Many individuals and organizations believe the current threshold puts Texas at a competitive disadvantage to other states also attempting to attract business.
Though the actual state budget legislation to be considered in this session will start in the House of Representatives (House Bill 1), Patrick also included the Senate base budget proposal as one of his legislative priorities (Senate Bill 1). Both proposed bills are very similar, and as the legislative session crawls on, deliberation between the chambers will alter some of what is included.
The Senate will be charged with carrying what is known as the Supplemental Budget legislation this session. It has taken the form of Senate Bill 30 (yet to be filed) and ultimately is appropriation legislation that fills in the gaps as a result of the previous biennium’s (Fiscal Years 2022-23) budget legislation.
Patrick has made no secret of his support for school choice. In this cycle, both he and Abbott have categorized such a policy proposal as parental empowerment. The legislation (yet to be filed) will be known as Senate Bill 8. Based on previous comments from both Patrick and Abbott, it is likely the proposal will seek to establish ESAs (Education Savings Accounts).
Recent polling shows general support among Texans for such a policy. The issue was last prioritized in 2017 and took the form of an ESA proposal.
This session, some school choice legislation has already been filed, though seemingly not in the way Patrick wants it, since he named other legislation to be prioritized. TFR Taxpayer Champion and Republican State Sen. Mayes Middleton (Galveston) filed Senate Bill 176 seeking to establish the Texas Parental Empowerment Program and an insurance premium tax credit for contributions made for the purposes of that program. Similar legislation has also been filed in the Texas House of Representatives, though its prospects there are more precarious, given how the issue has been handled historically.
Patrick’s Legislative Priorities
The complete list is as follows:
|Senate Bill 1||State Budget|
|Senate Bill 2||Restoring Voter Fraud to a Felony|
|Senate Bill 3||Increasing the Homestead Exemption to $70,000|
|Senate Bill 4||Adding Additional Property Tax Relief|
|Senate Bill 5||Increasing the Business Personal Property Tax Exemption|
|Senate Bill 6||Adding New Natural Gas Plants|
|Senate Bill 7||Continuing to Improve the Texas Grid|
|Senate Bill 8||Empowering Parental Rights – Including School Choice|
|Senate Bill 9||Empowering Teacher Rights – Teacher Pay Raise|
|Senate Bill 10||Adding 13th Checks for Retired Teachers|
|Senate Bill 11||Keeping Our Schools Safe and Secure|
|Senate Bill 12||Banning Children’s Exposure to Drag Shows|
|Senate Bill 13||Protecting Children from Obscene Books in Libraries|
|Senate Bill 14||Ending Child Gender Modification|
|Senate Bill 15||Protecting Women’s College Sports|
|Senate Bill 16||Banning Critical Race Theory (CRT) in Higher Education|
|Senate Bill 17||Banning Discriminatory “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) Policies in Higher Education|
|Senate Bill 18||Eliminating Tenure at General Academic Institutions|
|Senate Bill 19||Creating a New Higher Education Endowment Fund|
|Senate Bill 20||Removing District Attorneys Who Refuse to Follow Texas Law|
|Senate Bill 21||Removing Judges Who Refuse to Follow Texas Law|
|Senate Bill 22||Assisting Rural Law Enforcement Funding – Increasing Pay and Needed Equipment|
|Senate Bill 23||Creating a Mandatory 10-Year Prison Sentence for Criminal Committing Gun Crime|
|Senate Bill 24||Expanding Alternatives to Abortion|
|Senate Bill 25||Creating New Scholarships for Registered Nurses|
|Senate Bill 26||Expanding Mental Health Care Beds Across Texas – Focus on Rural Counties|
|Senate Bill 27||Creating a New Business Speciality Court|
|Senate Bill 28||Addressing Texas’ Future Water Needs|
|Senate Bill 29||Banning Local COVID-19 Mandates|
|Senate Bill 30||Supplemental Budget|
Notably, some legislative priorities missing from Patrick’s list were included in previous legislative sessions.
For example, Patrick had specifically called for a statewide ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying, an issue that TFR has also named as one of its legislative priorities this cycle. In the last legislative session (2021), the proposed ban took the form of Senate Bill 10, and though it passed the Senate, it had its prospects cut short in the Texas House of Representatives. This caused Patrick to specifically request that Abbott call a special session to address the issue, but he never did. As of this publication, the only Senate legislation seeking to ban the practice is that of Senate Bill 175, also by Middleton. A recent report indicated that the amount spent by local government on taxpayer-funded lobbying itself has increased over the last few legislative sessions, much to the chagrin of Texas taxpayers.
It is unclear whether Patrick will prioritize either Middleton’s legislation or a similar bill filed before the deadline, or if he has given up on the issue.
Priorities of the House of Representatives
It is thus far generally unknown what legislation will be prioritized by the lower chamber of the Texas Legislature. In recent legislative sessions, the speaker of the House has not necessarily provided an explicit list like that of the lieutenant governor. Last legislative session, House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) opted to hold press conferences where he expressed his support for specific subject areas and legislation that fit that description. Notably, House Bills 1 through 20 have been reserved this cycle; as of this publication, only House Bill 1 (the base House budget proposal) has been filed.
What Is Next?
Abbott will give his State of the State address on Thursday. The weeks that follow will see legislation reflecting his stated priorities get filed in both chambers of the Legislature. Again, lawmakers have until Friday, March 10 (Day 60), to file legislation that can be considered.
Concerned taxpayers can contact their lawmakers.
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