KXAN – Abbott, Patrick throwing weight behind property tax reform in GOP primary

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The top two state officials are weighing in big during the Texas primary in the hopes of setting the agenda before the next legislative session in January 2019.

The truth in Texas today is the real fight over state government happens in the Republican primary, with Tea Party Republicans battling it out with business Republicans.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s campaign team has purchased more than $5 million in television ads and the latest one highlights the effort to reform local property taxes.

“Skyrocketing property taxes are threatening homeowners and hurting businesses,” Patrick says in the new ad, saying he will fight for “a right to vote on local property taxes.”

Former Rockwall City Councilman Scott Milder is challenging Patrick in his GOP primary but has only raised $40,000 so far, according to state campaign reports.

So why is Lt. Gov. Patrick spending so much money this cycle?

“Elections provide the lieutenant governor with just two opportunities every four years to let the voters know what he and the Texas Senate have accomplished. He is taking full advantage of that opportunity in this election,” Patrick’s chief political strategist Allen Blakemore wrote to KXAN.

Restricting the growth of local property taxes has been front and center this election from both Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick.

“In terms of the issue of skyrocketing property taxes, the lieutenant governor has clearly laid out the facts on this issue many times and voters are counting on him to continue to be their champion on this issue and our current ad makes it clear he will be fighting for them moving forward,” wrote Blakemore.

Patrick’s campaign arm has supported his allies in the Texas Senate, including Sen. Joan Huffman, R- Houston and Sen. Bob Hall, R- Edgewood, in their races and Patrick has donated against senators who have pushed back against his agenda. He recently spent $17,000 on polling for Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Friscoe, the opponent of incumbent Senator Craig Estes, R- Wichita Falls.

Abbott meanwhile has historic amounts of money and he’s willing to spend it on other races.

Abbott is on a quest to get rid of three Republican incumbents in the Texas House, Rep. Lyle Larson, R- San Antonio, Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place and Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R- Galveston. Abbott’s campaign arm has spent more than $160,000 on ads and other campaign support to their opponents.

Abbott’s main priority ahead of the 2019 session is also property tax reform. In 2017, Republican lawmakers couldn’t agree between requiring voter approval when property taxes increase four or six percent. No legislation passed into law.

Abbott is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

The governor’s setting the bar lower, rolling out a plan requiring a two-thirds vote to approve any increase in local property tax above 2.5 percent.

The two incumbent state leaders are using this GOP primary to get different Republican lawmakers in the building now that their main obstacle last session, Republican Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, is not running for re-election.

“What this is really about is about agenda control,” said Joshua Blank from the Texas Politics Project. He ran a poll showing 77 percent of Texans want some kind of limit on local governments raising property taxes.

“They want everyone to get on the same page and they want to show that there’ll be consequences to pay if you don’t,” said Blank.

Critics of the idea claimed last year and continue to trumpet that this idea is a full out attack on local elected leaders’ control of their budget. It was that criticism which helped convince enough Republicans to kill the idea last year.

“Don’t limit us from what we are elected to do and have a fiduciary responsibility to do when it comes to picking up your garbage, paving your streets, and providing police and fire,” said Republican Mayor of El Paso, Dee Margo, at a Texas Tribune event earlier this year.

City leaders say “capping” the rate of property tax growth would starve cities of money for public safety resources. Plus they say it doesn’t tackle the main driver of rising property taxes: the Abbott and Patrick-controlled state government not paying enough for public schools.

There’s less than a month to go before the March 6 election date.