Senate Bill 2, filed by state senator Paul Bettencourt (CEO of Bettencourt Tax Advisors) is another insult in the long line of insults to Texas homeowners when it comes to property tax reform. Mr. Bettencourt and several other senators authored SB-2 late last year after the committee Bettencourt chaired released a report on recommended changes to the Texas property tax system. All of this came after a year-long road show in which the committee listened to public testimony throughout the state on our broken property tax system, apparently only feigning an interest in real reform.
“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair
As someone who looks at conflicts of interest and crony capitalism as a regular course of my writings, I was not surprised by the many shortcomings of SB-2 which is just another slap in the face to Texas homeowners, particularly middle class homeowners or those without the means to buy due process like big business does so readily within the current two-tiered system.
As a reminder, most state legislators in Texas don’t make their living on the $7200 annual salary and $190 per-diem when they are in session. Quite the contrary. Legislators in Texas have a long history of going to Austin to champion the causes which often benefit their own bottom line or that of their spouse. It’s a human nature thing. In the world of adverse compensation structures, the Texas Legislature has to rank right up there with Goldman Sachs bonuses or pay-for-play ratings on toxic mortgage-backed securities.
After warning many of my friends of the coming debacle on real property tax reform, I have not been disappointed. That’s because I profess no affiliation with either Democratic or Republican shills who have largely sold out to money and corporate interests. The politics of money is pretty easy to understand if you just acknowledge a conflict of interest for what it is.
Rather than real reform, Senate Bill 2 looks more and more like an effort to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. It doesn’t surprise me that another major property tax protest giant in Texas supports the measure, calling it “the most significant taxpayer relief bill filed in the state in 20 years.” even though that is absolutely laughable. Remember that whole conflict of interest thing, especially when it comes from a company which paid an $800,000 fine/settlement for abusing the system in the first place.
The huge deficiencies of Senate Bill 2 are now coming out into the open. A recent analysis of SB-2 by Texas Watchdog claims that lawmakers “half-stepped” the process because they did. Amusingly, Mr. Bettencourt called SB-2 a “tremendous reform package” when the measure doesn’t even touch the largest portion of your property tax bill, school property taxes. An analysis of the revised 5% rollback under SB-2 determined that many Texas counties would see little or no property tax savings at all. This isn’t too hard to understand if the bill doesn’t touch the taboo subject of school finance.
Galveston County’s tax-assessor, Cheryl Johnson, said the promises of reform and relief have been exaggerated…because they are. She compiled a study showing that 21 million homeowners will see no relief from SB-2. I think she’s right that SB-2 could come back to haunt Texas state Republicans…because it should. We should also not forget that it was none other than Dan Patrick himself who appointed the members of the “reform” committee, conflicts of interest be damned.
When you get your new property tax assessments in the mail this spring, you might want to throw out a special thank you to the members of that committee for there fine work on shuffling those deck chairs while avoiding comprehensive school finance reform. That’s assuming they have time to answer your calls or emails when they are busy trying to dictate who can use which public bathroom. Our Texas legislators have a lot on their plates, particularly when they are busy stepping around their own conflicts of interest.
Doling out billions in corporate welfare and Chapter 313 subsidies has become second nature to our Texas legislators. When it comes to real “conservative” values and looking out for the general welfare of Texans, they tend to point their attention in the direction of money. SB-2 will do nothing to change that. It will do nothing to end the myriad conflicts of interest embedded throughout the Texas property tax system or the huge waste of productive GDP that benefits the property tax protest firms feeding from the annual churn.
If you had any delusions about whether Texas representatives are seriously interested in lowering your property taxes, one look at the budget just approved by the Texas Senate should open your eyes. You can’t make this kind of stuff up even if you tried. While these phony fiscal conservatives in the Senate have been touting their fabulous property tax reform effort, they were also shifting $1.8 billion in public education costs to local taxpayers.
“The Senate proposal actually strips about $1.8 billion in state funds for education but uses local property taxes and other revenue to make up the difference.”
The more I think of it, the Texas property tax system reminds me of the U.S. healthcare system…the best system money can buy. The Texas real estate lobby doesn’t want mandatory sales price disclosure so you can have fair and accurate property tax assessments. The tax protest lobby doesn’t want the gravy train provided by the annual circus of uniform and equal “appraisal” to end. Big business buys their due process in district court when they need it. Meanwhile, you the average Texas homeowner, receives a token $50 credit after your total property tax bill for your home increased over $500.
Sound about right?