FILE - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

(The Center Square) – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded Wednesday to a May 13 letter he received from the Texas Democratic Congressional Delegation asking him and the Legislature to freeze property taxes. He also issued a directive to state agencies to cut spending by five percent.

The Democratic delegation asked the governor and the Legislature “to suspend any raises, interest and penalties on Texas property taxes for the current taxable year. Additionally, the last thing our fellow Texans need is a change in property appraisals leading to an increase in property taxes.”

In his reply issued Wednesday, the governor reiterated that local governments set property tax rates, not the state, and the state Legislature already passed sweeping property tax reform last year.

“The state, for example, took the unprecedented step last year in reducing school property tax rates, and requiring those rates to continue to decline as property values increase,” he said.

Abbott also directed local governments to find cost-cutting measures.

“Local governments, who set property tax rates, should find ways to reduce the tax burden on Texans," he said. "Whether we're facing times of challenge or times of prosperity – raising taxes on the people of Texas is never the answer.”

Abbott also urged the delegation to help pass legislation to protect business owners, health care facilities and employees, and first responders from being held liable for COVID-19 exposure claims when they adhere to relevant public health guidelines and make good faith efforts to limit the risk of exposure and infection.

The governor also directed state agencies and institutions of higher education to submit a plan identifying savings that will reduce respective general and general revenue related appropriations by five percent for the 2020-2021 biennium.

Cost-saving strategies he suggested include forgoing capital expenditures that can be deferred, avoidable travel expenditures, administrative expenses that are not mission critical, and keeping unfilled any open positions that are not essential to Texas' COVID-19 response.

"We are confident that Texas will get back to work and continue leading the nation in job growth, economic innovation, and business creation,” Abbott said. “However, it will take months until we know the true extent of the economic ramifications of COVID-19, and how combating this virus will impact state finances. To prepare for this economic shock, we must take action today to ensure that the state can continue providing the essential government services that Texans expect."

Agencies excluded from the five percent reduction directive include:

  • the Texas Division of Emergency Management
  • the Texas Department of State Health Services
  • the Texas Workforce Commission
  • the Texas Military Department
  • and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Also excluded was:

  • Funding for debt service requirements and bond authorizations;
  • Current law requirements for the Foundation School Program and school safety;
  • Funding for Child Protective Services;
  • Benefits and eligibility levels in Medicaid programs, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the foster care program, the adoption subsidies program, the permanency care assistance program, and services for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities;
  • Funding for behavioral health service programs;
  • Appropriations for Correctional Security Operations and Correctional Managed Health Care at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
  • Appropriations to Health Related Institutions and Community Colleges; and
  • Employer Contributions to the Teacher Retirement System and Employees Retirement System funds and to Social Security.