Election of Speaker
The 88th Legislative Session officially convened Tuesday, and in the Texas House of Representatives, the first order of business after being sworn in was to elect a House speaker.
Two candidates were nominated. The incumbent speaker, Republican State Rep. Dade Phelan (Beaumont), and challenger State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington), who had announced his intention to run for the position in November of last year.
In the end, only three House lawmakers voted against Phelan. Those votes included Tinderholt, State Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City), and new State Rep. Nate Schatzline. The 145 House lawmakers that voted for Phelan were comprised of a coalition of Republicans and Democrats.
Phelan Hints as to Priorities
After being elected, Phelan gave remarks highlighting a few of his legislative priorities. In his words, those priorities include:
• Providing lasting, meaningful property tax relief;
• Increasing access to and giving patients greater control over their healthcare;
• Prioritizing criminal justice reform, DA accountability, and public safety;
• Utilizing the state’s once-in-a-lifetime budget surplus to improve infrastructure;
• Fighting back against the exploitation, sexualization, and indoctrination of Texas children;
• Making schools safer for students and teachers;
• Extending postpartum health coverage for new mothers to a full year; and
• Addressing the threats posed by a porous border.
He spoke to property tax burdens, as well:
Like you, I heard some very straightforward concerns from the families in my district. I have heard about the economy, inflation, and the difficulty in making ends meet. Ever-increasing property taxes have led many to feel—year in and year out—that they are renting their property from the government. Like them, I believe that tax relief should be a priority.
Phelan continued, “Time and time again, we have seen the Legislature provide some form of property tax relief, but to make it lasting, we must do something about runaway appraisals. Taxpayers deserve better.”
Notably, he chose to focus on appraisal reform as a fix to the ever-increasing property tax burden facing Texas taxpayers. Though the appraisal system should absolutely be reformed, that priority is different than previously discussed legislative priorities relating to property tax reform from that of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (who seems hyper-focused on increasing the homestead exemption) or Governor Greg Abbott (who has previously indicated his support to eliminate the school portion of the property tax altogether).
Phelan’s sentiments are potentially concerning, as House Republican leadership has been reluctant to give much detail as to whether they planned on using things like the nearly $32.7 billion budget surplus forecasted by the Texas comptroller to buy down the Maintenance and Operations (M&O) portion of the property tax. Using the surplus to do this would provide relief to Texas taxpayers, but instead, they seem keen to use some of that surplus on things like infrastructure (as mentioned above).
As a part of our Texas Prosperity Plan, we support using all—or as much as realistically possible— of the budget surplus to “buy down” the M&O portion of the property tax, providing real tax relief for Texas taxpayers. We also suggest that it could simultaneously put Texas on a path to the elimination of the tax if both state and local governments cut spending.
What Is Next?
The House will also deliberate a “Housekeeping Resolution” and “Rules Resolution” before their business concludes for the week. Lawmakers can continue to file legislation up until the bill filing deadline on March 10, 2023 (Day 60 of the legislative session). Historically, the speaker announces his committee appointments a few weeks after the beginning of the legislative session.