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Testimony: House Committee on Ways & Means April 21, 2022

The testimony below was submitted to the Texas House Committee on Ways & Means on April 21st, 2022, by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI).

Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute

House Committee on Ways & Means

April 21, 2022

Regarding the Committee’s Charge: Study and consider methods of providing additional property tax relief, including the use of $3 billion in available American Rescue Plan Act funds that were held for future tax relief by the 87th Legislature, and other sources of revenue. Explore options to reduce business property tax burdens and options for limiting the growth of property tax bills.


In a December 2020 report, the Comptroller listed the striking growth in property tax revenue over the last two decades. Total property taxes levied for the 1998 tax year were $19.06 billion; for the 2019 tax year, the corresponding figure was $67.29 billion.[i] Thus, in this 21-year period, property tax collections grew at a 6.2 percent annual rate. A homeowner facing 6.2 percent annual increases in property taxes would see his or her property tax bill more than double every 12 years. To make matters worse, some Texans who live in fast-growing areas have seen their property taxes go up at even higher rates. As people have flocked to Texas, property values—and the associated tax burdens—have gone up. For example, the Texas Association of Realtors reports that, from 2011 to 2020, the median home price in Dallas increased from just under $150,000 to $291,100.[ii]

While key reforms by the 86th Legislature will help to restrain the future growth of property taxes, current property taxes are still high throughout the state. Indeed, Texas has some of the highest property taxes in the nation. In 2021, the Tax Foundation reported that (based on 2019 data) Texas ranked 6th in the country in terms of property taxes as a percentage of owner-occupied housing.[iii] A 2021 report by Attom Data Solutions found that, based on 2020 data, Texas’ effective property tax rate of 2.15 percent ranked third in the country.[iv]

There is little question that Texans are looking to policymakers to offer solutions that build on the 2019 reforms. A February 2020 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 54 percent of Texans thought property taxes were too high.[v] And this is likely an understatement because 16 percent of respondents answered that they did not know if property taxes were too high. In other words, of Texans who expressed an opinion on property taxes, 64 percent thought they were too high. Similarly, a survey of Texas registered voters released in July 2021 by WPA Intelligence found that 82 percent of them believe property taxes were an important issue in Texas, and that 71 percent of them would be upset if the Legislature did not address property taxes.[vi]

Fortunately, some relief may be on the way for homeowners. Senate Joint Resolution 2 (Bettencourt, et al. | 87, S3), which will go before voters in May, would increase the homestead exemption from school district taxes from $25,000 to $40,000, which would provide the owner of a $300,000 home with annual tax savings of about $200. But more relief is needed, and with an expected budget surplus of $12 billion at the end of the 2022-23 biennium, the Legislature is well-positioned to enact this relief.


The Legislature could consider one or more of the following proposals: “buying down” school district maintenance and operations (M&O) tax rates with surplus state revenue; enacting a tax swap by increasing the state sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to a higher figure and offsetting that by buying down school district M&O tax rates; authorizing cities and counties to enact a tax swap in which they increase their sales tax rates (beyond the current 2 percent sales tax cap on combined local sales tax rates) in exchange for offsetting property tax rate reductions; enacting a tax swap that involves expansion of the sales tax base; and eliminating or at least curtailing community college district taxes.

While each of the above proposals would help businesses deal with the burdens of commercial property taxation, the problem of excessive tax rates on business property in Texas requires its own solutions. TCCRI’s recent testimony to the House Committee on International Relations & Economic Development addresses possible solutions and is attached as Appendix A to this testimony.

Buying Down School District M&O Tax Rates

The ideal property tax relief would be to eliminate maintenance & operations (M&O) property taxes using surplus state revenue. Over recent biennia, the state’s general revenue has tended to grow faster than population plus inflation. In 2019, the Legislature passed a critically important bill into law—Senate Bill 1336—which generally limits increases in state appropriations of general revenue for a given biennium to no more than the rate of population growth plus inflation. Given the state’s strong economic track record and the fiscal discipline required by SB 1336, it is likely that the state will continue to grow its surpluses over time. The proposed buydown of M&O property taxes would require the state to effectively lower M&O property tax rates throughout the state and offset the decline in property tax revenue with the state’s surplus general revenue.

Because of the enormous sum of property tax revenues that local taxing units levy annually, this policy of buying down M&O property taxes would have to be accomplished over a long period of time. The state could dedicate a percentage of its biennial surplus revenue, or revenue in excess of a certain figure, to property tax relief. The reform could be implemented by first targeting a subset of M&O taxes, such as school M&O taxes. Buying down M&O taxes offers the advantage of offering straightforward property tax relief to all Texans without creating additional administrative costs or procedures and without the government favoring certain constituencies over others.

As the table below illustrates, the biennial increase in GR-related revenue since the 2012-2013 biennium has averaged 10.34 percent. In contrast, the biennial rate of population growth plus inflation has averaged 7.03 percent. This average difference of 3.31 percent translates into significant dollars; for example, growth of 3.31 percent in GRR funds from the current biennium to the 2024-25 biennium (net of inflation and population growth) would generate $4.41 billion in funds that could be used for tax relief.[1] Moreover, that understates the potential for tax relief, because the state already has a projected surplus of $12 billion for the baseline 2022-23 biennium in this example.

Enacting a Tax Swap at the State Level

Consumption taxes offer several advantages over income and property taxes. They do not penalize work, savings, or investment. They are transparent and easily administered. People can manage their exposure to sales taxes to a great extent by their behavior. They do not pose liquidity problems for taxpayers. If a taxpayer lacks the funds to make a purchase, then the sale never takes place, and, thus, the tax is not imposed. Consumption taxes also raise revenue from non-residents who visit Texas and make use of state and local services. They are also paid only once, after which the taxpayer owns the property, with no need to make periodic tax payments to retain the property. There is a mix of control and fairness to consumption taxes absent from other forms of taxation.

Sales tax is already the largest state-level tax revenue source for the Texas state government.[vii] The Comptroller projects that there will be $38.63 billion in sales tax revenue in fiscal year 2022.[viii] The current state sales tax rate is 6.25 percent, and local taxing units (such as cities and counties) can charge an additional 2 percent in the aggregate, for a maximum sales tax rate of 8.25 percent.

Given the well-documented issues associated with property taxes in Texas and the relative strengths of consumption taxes, a tax swap is an intriguing idea. Under this tax swap, the state sales tax rate would increase from 6.25 percent to a higher rate, with the increased revenue being offset by property tax rate relief through the buying down of school district M&O taxes. The idea is that the change would initially be revenue neutral, but given that consumption taxes are driven, in part, by behavior, the burden would not increase in the same manner that property taxes increase as property values rise.

The benefits of swapping property taxes for sales taxes are myriad. For example, businesses would not have to weigh the burden of property taxes when deciding whether to make capital investments, which would increase investment and economic growth. Indeed, there would be no need for questionable economic incentive deals centered around property tax benefits. Additionally, homeowners would not have to worry about compliance costs, such as protesting high appraisals of their property and the days of people being taxed out of their homes would likely be over.

M&O school taxes are the most burdensome portion of Texans’ property tax bills; in 2019, total schools tax revenue—comprised of M&O and “interest and sinking” (I&S) tax revenue—totaled 53.9 percent of total property taxes in the state,[ix] the vast majority of which was attributable to M&O taxes.[x] Every additional billion dollars in state funding can reduce school M&O tax rates by 3.3 cents per $100 of taxable value.[xi] Thus, a tax swap that generated (for example) an additional $6 billion in annual state sales tax revenue could reduce M&O tax rates by 19.8 cents per $100 of taxable value. This would afford almost $600 in annual property tax relief to the owner of a house with a taxable value of $300,000. Moreover, buying down school district M&O taxes would benefit Texas businesses as well, as they pay property taxes not only on their real estate, but also on their tangible personal property.

Authorizing Tax Swaps at the Local Level

A conceptually similar tax swap could be authorized at the local level by authorizing local voters and/or local governments to adopt a maximum local sales tax rate that exceeds the current 2 percent aggregate cap on sales taxes by local taxing units. If the city or county (or voters) approved such a sales tax increase, the additional sales tax revenue could be dedicated to compressing city and/or county M&O rates, as applicable.

Enacting a Tax Swap through Expansion of the Sales Tax Base

The Legislature could consider expanding the sales tax base by eliminating current exemptions from the sales tax and using the additional revenue to compress school M&O tax rates throughout the state. Current law exempts purchases of various goods and services from sales tax. According to estimates in a December 2020 report by the Comptroller, sales tax exemptions, exclusions, and discounts will result in forgone revenue of $44.96 billion in FY 2022.[xii] However, as a practical matter, that figure significantly overstates the potential for revenue gains by expanding the sales tax base; as the Comptroller noted in the report, approximately $15.75 billion of that forgone revenue is attributable to exemptions for goods and services that are taxed separately under other law, such as motor vehicles, motor fuels, and insurance premiums, and that exemption is a sensible policy that avoids double-taxation of these goods and services. Nevertheless, the Legislature could scrutinize numerous other exemptions and exclusions from the sales tax.

Irrespective of which tax swap approach the Legislature might consider, it should be emphasized that in each of the past two legislative sessions, at least one tax swap bill was filed: House Bill 4621 (Rep. Huberty), House Bill 705 (Rep. Geren, et al.), and House Bill 297 (Rep. Murr, et al.) were filed in 2019, and House Bill 59 (Rep. Murr, et al.) was filed in 2021. The committee substitute for HB 4621 would have increased the state sales tax rate to 7.25 percent and dedicated the additional revenue to compression of school M&O tax rates. The committee substitute for HB 705 would have permitted each of cities and counties to impose an additional sales tax of up to 2 percent if they eliminated M&O taxes. HB 297 and HB 59 would have eliminated school M&O taxes and replaced them with additional revenue from consumption taxes. While the specific mechanism for increasing consumption tax revenue was not specified in either of these last two bills, a possibility mentioned in each bill was the expansion of the state’s sales tax base. Although none of the four bills passed into law, they suggest that tax swaps are viable policy. All four bills were approved by House committees, and the House even passed HB 297.

Eliminating Community College District Taxes

Community college districts are authorized to levy property taxes under current law. Property taxes are one of the three funding sources for community college districts, with state appropriations and tuition (including student fees) being the others. Notably, the 3.5 percent cap on year-over year (YoY) M&O property tax revenue growth to which most cities, counties, and school districts are subject does not apply to community college districts. Rather, these districts generally can increase M&O revenue by up to 8 percent YoY (excluding revenue from new property) without obtaining the consent of voters.[xiii] Although community college district property taxes are significantly less than city, county, and school property taxes, these taxes are particularly questionable from a tax policy perspective and thus serve as a logical starting point for property tax relief.

According to the Texas Association of Community Colleges, the average overall community college property tax rate (reflecting both M&O and I&S rates) for FY 2011 was $0.158924 per $100 of taxable property value.[xiv] For FY 2019, that rate increased to $0.18370 per $100 of taxable property value; an increase of 15.6 percent in the average rate over the last ten years.[xv] Given declining enrollment over that period, that increase in rates would be concerning by itself, even if the enrollment decline might be in due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects. But what is especially concerning is the dramatic increase in property tax collections. As with all forms of property taxation in Texas, the taxes paid by property owners are affected primarily by two variables: the rate of the tax and the appraised value of the taxable property. In FY 2011, tax collections by community college districts were $1.40 billion.[xvi] The estimated collections for FY 2021 were $2.74 billion.[xvii] Thus, property tax collections are estimated to have almost doubled in the span of 10 years. That fact that this dramatic increase is occurring despite enrollment decreasing since 2011 is especially objectionable and should prompt the Legislature to consider corrective action. The following chart puts these trends into perspective:

Even leaving aside troubling performance problems by Texas community colleges (such as the unacceptably low percentages of students who graduate with a degree in 4 or 6 years), the steep increases in property tax collections in the face of stagnant or even declining enrollment raises serious questions about continuing to allow community colleges to levy property taxes at all, or perhaps compelling them to cut rates proportionally as enrollment declines. At a minimum, community college districts should be forced to hold elections if they seek more than 3.5 percent YoY growth in M&O tax revenue (excluding revenue from new property), just as most cities and counties are required to do. Because of rising property valuations (which are calculated independently of community college districts by County Appraisal Districts (CADs)), community college property taxes are essentially “on auto-pilot.”[2] Even if community college districts leave their tax rates the same, the taxes they collect increase along with property values irrespective of whether enrollment is growing or whether there are other demands on the financial resources of the districts. Such a system simply funnels more and more money into the community college system with no expectation of improved academic outcomes, no assessment of whether the increased funding levels are merited (either by the college districts or by an independent entity), and little recourse for taxpayers.


With the state’s recovering economy and a $12 billion expected budget surplus at the end of the 2022-23 biennium, the Legislature is in a position to consider substantial tax relief. Perhaps the best approach would be to use surplus state revenue to continue the buy down of school district M&O tax rates begun by the 86th Legislature. This approach has the advantages of offering both individuals and businesses tax relief, and doing so in an administratively-efficient manner. The Legislature could also consider a variety of tax swaps to reduce the property tax burden throughout the state, whether as an alternative to buying down M&O rates with state surpluses or in conjunction with it. Finally, the Legislature could consider eliminating community college district taxes or at least tying them to enrollment, as well as lowering the threshold for community college district tax ratification elections.


Appendix A

Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute

House Committee on International Relations & Economic Development

April 20, 2022

Regarding the Committee’s Charge: Examine current economic development incentive programs and identify opportunities to enhance job creation in Texas. Make recommendations to promote transparency and enhance effectiveness of such programs.


During the 87th legislative session, the Legislature declined to extend the Texas Economic Development Act (sometimes referred to as “Chapter 313”) beyond its current expiration date of December 31, 2022. Chapter 313 has been the state’s largest economic development incentive program for years; it authorized school districts to grant companies a 10-year abatement of school district maintenance and operations (“M&O”) property taxes. Chapter 313 had several legitimate criticisms that emerged over the years. Among other criticisms, the program facilitated lower than anticipated job creation numbers, reinforced the perception that such programs create favoritism towards large companies and renewable energy projects, and never adequately addressed the commonly held belief that companies would not relocate to Texas without such a program in place. These issues, along with a growing sentiment against these types of economic development policies, led to a disagreement over its reform that ultimately led to the decision by the Legislature to not extend the program beyond its expiration date.

While Chapter 313 is expiring,[3] the problem it sought to address—Texas’ high property taxes on businesses—remains. Not only does Texas have high property tax rates relative to most states, but it also has a broader base than most when it comes to commercial property taxes; for example, as of 2020, Texas was only one of nine states that subjects business inventory to property taxes.[xviii] Although the state has many strong selling points to businesses, such as a sensible regulatory climate and no personal income taxes, its property tax system is undeniably a weak point. The Tax Foundation’s 2022 business climate rankings for states placed Texas 14th.[xix]The state’s relatively high property taxes were a key reason it did not rank higher; Texas ranks 37th if the analysis is confined to commercial property taxation.[xx]

The commercial property tax burden in Texas is particularly heavy for businesses with considerable tangible property, such as machinery, computers, furniture, and inventory. Tangible personal property used in a business (business personal property, or BPP) is subject to property tax to the same extent that real property is. Service-focused industries with relatively little tangible personal property (e.g., a consulting business) are not greatly affected by property taxes on BPP (referred to in this testimony as “the business personal property tax,” or BPPT); however, many industries (e.g., manufacturers) are, and they overlap considerably with the capital-intensive companies whose property tax burdens Chapter 313 was meant to alleviate.


The 88th legislative session will present an opportunity for enacting economic development incentive programs that are superior to Chapter 313. These alternatives could help mitigate the tax burden that capital-intensive businesses face in Texas, thereby making the state more attractive to companies relocating. At the same time, these alternatives could avoid the flaws in Chapter 313; in particular, any alternative to Chapter 313 should be broad-based and not discriminate against smaller companies. To spur still more economic development in the state, the Legislature should consider one or more of the four options discussed below.

First, the Legislature could use a portion of the expected budget surplus to “buy down” M&O school taxes, building on the property tax reforms of the 86th Legislature. The Comptroller predicts that there will be a general revenue-related surplus of $12 billion at the end of the 2022-23 biennium, more than enough to provide significant commercial property tax relief. Notably, this option would provide tax relief to all Texans, not just businesses.

Second, the Legislature could increase the current $2,500 exemption for BPP to a much greater figure. This exemption was just increased from $500 to $2,500 by Senate Bill 1449 (Bettencourt; 87R). While that increase was a welcome change and will save many small businesses from spending time on valuing their property, the relief is not great in terms of dollars. At a total property tax rate of 2.0 percent of taxable property value, this increase results in annual savings of approximately $40. At the same tax rate, an exemption amount of $100,000 (which exists in Idaho[xxi]) would provide welcome tax relief of $2,000 annually. Although the fiscal impact of increasing the exemption to $100,000 (or even more) is not clear, Comptroller data suggests that the exemption could be raised substantially even using just a portion of the projected $12 billion surplus at the end of the 2022-23 biennium. In the 2020 Tax Exemptions and Incidence Report, the Comptroller reported that the annual “cost” of the then-$500 exemption in forgone revenue was a mere $300,000.[xxii]

Third, the Legislature could effectively lower taxes on BPP by changing the appraisal rules to value BPP at less than its fair value, and then holding harmless local taxing units for the forgone revenue. For example, BPP could be valued at 60 percent of its market value, effectively providing a 40 percent tax cut. This approach should not require a constitutional amendment.[xxiii] Indeed, a bill embracing this general approach was filed in 2017. House Bill 2589 (85R; Button, et al.) would have phased in a dramatic reduction in property tax rates on most types of inventory. This approach would give the Legislature great flexibility; the percentage reduction in valuation of BPP could be determined in light of the state’s budget forecast and tax cuts through reduced appraisals could be phased in over time.

Fourth, the Legislature could exempt BPP from property taxes. Due to budgetary limitations, this approach would probably have to be narrowed somewhat. For example, inventory (a subset of BPP) could be exempted entirely from property taxes, or BPP could be exempted from school district taxes. Each of these approaches, however, would require a constitutional amendment.

Projecting the fiscal impact of this fourth option (or variations of it) is challenging. The starting point of the analysis is the Comptroller’s biennial property tax report.[xxiv] The most recent report was published in December 2020 and covers the 2018 and 2019 tax years. In the report, the Comptroller divided the taxable property in Texas into various categories. The categories of Commercial Personal Property, Industrial Personal Property, Mobile Homes (and certain aircraft and boats), Special Inventory (which includes vehicle and heavy equipment held by dealers), and Goods in Transit comprise BPP. The estimated school district taxable value[4] of this property in 2019 was $286.24 billion, or 9.86 percent of the $2,904.48 billion total taxable value of school district taxable property in the state. The total property tax levy in the state in the 2019 tax year per the Comptroller was $67.29 billion. Thus, estimated revenue from the BPPT for tax year 2019 was 9.86 percent of that figure (i.e., $6.63 billion).

These numbers largely accord with those presented by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association (TTARA), which estimated that BPP comprised 9.8 percent of school taxable property in the state in the 2018 tax year.[xxv]TTARA also estimates that inventory comprises approximately half of BPP in Texas.[xxvi]

Of course, property values have risen significantly throughout the state since 2019, resulting in higher property taxes. While total property taxes in the state were $67.29 billion in 2019, unofficial, preliminary data (which will subsequently be adjusted) from the Comptroller suggests that the total property tax levy in the state in 2021 was approximately $76.3 billion.[xxvii] If the percentage of BPP in the state remains 9.86 percent, then an estimated $7.52 billion in property taxes were attributable to BPP in 2021.

A final piece of useful information is the percentage of total property taxes that school district taxes comprise. In 2019, that figure was roughly 53.9 percent. The Comptroller’s unofficial data for 2021 places the percentage at 51.3 percent, a reduction which is unsurprising given the stricter 2.5 percent cap on the annual growth in school tax revenues (as compared to the 3.5 percent and 8.0 percent caps on other taxing units).

Based on the above information, the fiscal impact of various reforms can be estimated as shown in the table below.

For context, based on the most recent report by the Comptroller on Chapter 313, the revenue forgone under the approximately 510 Chapter 313 agreements in place as of June 1, 2020, was $2.52 billion through 2019. The estimated forgone revenue after 2019 as a result of those agreements is another $8.24 billion, for total revenue forgone of $10.76 billion[xxviii] (the total revenue forgone post-2019 will actually be substantially more than $8.24 billion, because more Chapter 313 agreements have been and will be executed between June 1, 2020 and December 31, 2022).


The legislature’s goal should be tax reforms that mitigate the perceived need for Chapter 313 and similarly targeted incentive programs. With the looming expiration of Chapter 313 and a projected budget surplus for the current biennium, the Legislature has an opportunity to craft broad-based property tax relief for Texas businesses. Possible reforms include buying down school district M&O rates, effectively slashing tax rates on BPP by changing appraisal guidelines, increasing the exemption amount from the BPPT, exempting inventory from property taxes, or exempting BPP from school district taxes. These reforms would benefit the same types of companies whose high tax burden Chapter 313 was meant to ameliorate; however, these reforms would accomplish that goal without the flaws of Chapter 313. Indeed, they would benefit those same companies that benefit from Chapter 313, but with the added benefit of making all businesses in Texas winners.


[1] If severance tax revenue increased from the previous biennium, this figure of $4.41 billion would be lessened somewhat by a to-be-determined amount that would be deposited in the Economic Stabilization Fund. [2] While community college district board are elected, giving voters the ability to influence community college tax rates, County Appraisal District boards are not elected, but instead are appointed by the taxing entities within their jurisdiction. As a result, beyond appealing an individual property appraisal to the Appraisal Review Board (ARB), property owners have little influence over ever increasing appraisals that drive up their tax bills. [3] It is important to note that the expiration of Chapter 313 means that school districts and businesses may no longer enter into value limitation agreements. However, businesses with a value limitation agreement in place before the statute’s expiration date will still qualify for a 10-year abatement. Thus, Chapter 313 abatements will continue well past the statute’s expiration date. [4] School district taxable values can differ from city and county taxable values because of homestead exemptions that vary based on taxing unit, as well as Chapter 313 agreements. Nonetheless, school district taxable values are a useful proxy for taxable property values.

[i] Comptroller, Biennial Property Tax Report, 2018 and 2019 (December 2020). [ii] [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] [vii] Comptroller, Certification Revenue Estimate, 2022-23 (November 2021). [viii] [ix] Comptroller, Biennial Property Tax Report, 2018-2019, Appendix 6 (December 2020). [x] Legislative Budget Board, Fiscal Size-Up, 2020-21 Biennium, p. 215 (May 2020). [xi] [xii] Comptroller, Tax Exemptions & Incidence (December 2020). [xiii] See sections 26.012(19) and 26.04(c)(2)(A), Tax Code. [xiv] (PDF page 20/35). [xv] (PDF page 10/35). [xvi] (PDF page 20/35). [xvii] (click on “FY 2021 TACC Local Revenue results” and select the “Prop Tax” tab in the spreadsheet). [xviii] [xix] [xx] Ibid. [xxi] Idaho Statutes, Section 63-602KK, available at [xxii] Comptroller, Tax Exemptions and Incidence, p. 33 (Dec. 2020). [xxiii] Compare the holding in EXLP Leasing, LLC v. Galveston Central Appraisal District, 554 S.W.3d 572 (Tex. 2018), available at [xxiv] Comptroller, Biennial Tax Report, 2018 and 2019 (December 2020). [xxv] [xxvi] [xxvii] (sum of taxes levied by each taxing unit). [xxviii] (see link to 2021 Summary).


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