Political experts say the ongoing property tax debate is not at the forefront of most Texans’ minds; however, they expect this to change the further the Legislature gets into this special session without any agreement.
“The longer this drags on, and the more that Republican leadership fails to pass property tax relief, the more aware and disappointed Texas voters are going to be,” said Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University.
The second special session kicked off last week with both chambers at yet another impasse backing different legislation. The House passed a proposal in committee identical to the last session's final bill. The Senate approved a new measure similar to its previous one but included an amendment providing temporary supplemental payments to teachers across school districts.
Jones said this was not a promising start and instead signaled that both sides still appeared to be dug in on what they wanted.
Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston, said this is nothing new as the public sees the “Big Three” – Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan – fight or team up with one to oust out the other.
Rottinghaus said the majority of the public's attention is divided on the the looming Senate trial for suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the potential special session over school choice – Abbott’s main legislative priority.
However, he said more people are noticing the leaders’ approaches to arguing publicly, instead of mainly behind closed doors as they typically do and that discussions unexpectedly spilled into additional sessions, “Everyone’s looking for the outcome they prefer, and time is short. That’s a recipe for friction,” Rottinghaus said.
Additionally, Abbott’s inability to act earlier and more quickly to mitigate the House and Senate’s differences is also not reflecting well on the lawmakers' ability to govern, “This is drawn on politically longer than beneficial for anybody, so there’s an incentive to get it done,” he said.
Rottinghaus said Republican leaders want to avoid any crossover into the Senate race in 2024, especially as these arguments are just precursors to those that are to come while hashing out the possibility of school choice and determining the status of Paxton’s political future.
Bob Stein, professor of political science at Rice University, said most voters side in the debate with whoever they like politically, with a majority backing the Lieutenant Governor – who is proposing a plan that favors the average homeowner over business owners.
He said the real pressure will come from the public closer to September – if a compromise is not reached – when the deadline to get Patrick’s homestead exemption increase on the November ballot will approach.
At this point, he expects the House to come back and ask for more help for small businesses and more compression, with less of an increase to the homestead exemption. But this would mean that the House would also have to find a way to compromise with the Senate.
“The speaker and lieutenant governor need to be able to speak with one another. Right now, it’s like when parents get divorced, and they fight, but they haven’t moved out yet,” Stein said.
Jones said he does not anticipate a need for Abbott to call a third special session, as he agrees the ball is now in the House’s court after the Senate’s last proposal.
“The Senate proposed a relatively sound compromise – at least a starting point – so far, neither the speaker nor the governor has appeared interested,” he said. “This debate and all the conversations going on now among these leaders should have been occurring earlier, such that this should have been a cakewalk during the regular session.”