How the Texas House Killed Disaster Reappraisal

By Dan Patrick

Published 4:12 p.m. CT Oct. 17, 2017 in the Corpus Christi Caller Times

Recently, a Democrat opinion piece was published in the Caller-Times saying that I “refused to consider” disaster reappraisal legislation that would require local governments to reappraise property values after a disaster, like the recent hurricane.  That is outrageous and false. Here are the facts:

Reappraisal following a big storm like Harvey is critical to ensure that taxpayers are not forced to pay the same taxes on a home badly damaged by the storm as they paid before it was damaged.  The home is worth much less and the property taxes should reflect that.

In the last regular session, with my strong support, the State Senate passed Senate Bill 717, the disaster reappraisal bill, on March 27.  The vote was unanimous. The bill proceeded to the House where it was easily voted out of the Ways & Means Committee on April 13.  With six weeks left in the legislative session all the House had to do was bring the bill to the floor and it would have easily passed.  The Senate had no idea at the time that the House intended to kill the bill.

While House leadership slow-played the Senate disaster reappraisal bill, they passed an identical House bill by state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University. There was no reason to pass an identical bill.  All they had to do was pass the Senate bill on the floor.  Davis, a member of the House leadership team, sits on the very committee that kept the Senate bill from getting to the House floor for a vote.  Apparently, the representative was only interested in passing a disaster reappraisal bill if it had her name on it.

We saw the same antics in the special session.  After working only a few days during the first few weeks of the special session (while the Senate passed almost all of the bills Gov. Greg Abbott included on his call in the first week) the House passed a disaster reappraisal bill on August 11, just a few days before they quit early and walked out. There was no time for the Senate to take up the bill and they knew it.

 Senate Bill 1, my property tax reform bill, was strongly supported by Governor Abbott and Texans across the state. It would have required local governments that collect more than $20 million in property tax revenue annually to put any property tax increases beyond 4 percent over the rollback rate to a vote of the people. This would have significantly reduced property taxes moving forward.

Speaker Joe Straus and House leadership said they supported property tax reform, but gutted the bill the governor, the Senate, homeowners and businesses supported. They diluted the bill until it provided virtually no tax savings whatsoever. Governor Abbott and I, along with Senate leaders, offered to negotiate with the House in a conference committee but Speaker Straus refused.

Disaster reappraisal reform would have been part of the final property tax bill.  After the special session, Governor Abbott said that any failure to pass important legislation was the fault of Speaker Straus. The governor was right.

Importantly for taxpayers, disaster reappraisal can still happen even though the speaker killed property tax reform.  Local leaders simply need to put it in place.  They have that power. We applaud Fort Bend and Montgomery counties who have already voluntarily begun disaster reappraisal for residents.

Disaster reappraisal is a critical component of the long recovery that we are facing in the wake of the storm.  Local leaders should make sure it happens now.