Texas legislature refers constitutional amendment to May 2022 ballot

Texas voters will decide on a constitutional amendment related to a property tax reduction for elderly and disabled residents on May 7, 2022. The amendment was passed during the second special legislative session, which convened on Aug. 7, 2021. The amendment would authorize the state legislature to reduce the property tax limit for school maintenance and operations taxes imposed on the homesteads of elderly or disabled residents to reflect any tax rate reduction enacted by law from the preceding tax year. 

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds vote is required in both the Texas state Senate and the Texas House of Representatives. This amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 2 (SJR 2) on Aug. 6, 2021. On Aug. 9, 2021, the state Senate passed SJR 2 by a vote of 29-0 with two absent. On Aug. 26, 2021, the state House passed SJR 2 by a vote of 116-0 with 32 absent or not voting.

Senate Bill 12 (SB 12), the enabling legislation for the amendment, was also passed during the special session. SB 12 extends a property tax reduction enacted by House Bill 3 in 2019 to elderly and disabled residents whose property taxes are frozen either when they turn 65 or buy a new property if they are disabled. The Senate passed SB 12 by a vote of 31-0, and the House passed SB 12 by a vote of 121-0 with 27 absent or not voting. As of Aug. 30, the bill was awaiting the governor’s signature. If the amendment is passed, SB 12 would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. The Legislative Budget Board estimated that the reduction would result in a $467.5 million reduction to revenue in the first two years of its implementation.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R), who wrote the amendment, said, “I hope a unanimous vote from the Senate is a signal that this really is good bipartisan legislation. This isn’t just tax relief. This would be a tax cut, and over time it would continue for as long as (seniors and disabled Texans) own the home.”

The amendment and SB 12 were modeled after a 2007 constitutional amendment and 2006 property tax reduction. In 2007, voters approved Proposition 1, which reduced school property tax freeze amounts on homesteads of the elderly or disabled to provide a tax reduction similar to the reduction other taxpayers had received in 2006. It was passed by a margin of 87.7% to 12.3%.

The 2022 amendment is the first even-numbered year ballot measure to appear on Texas ballots since 2014. Between 1985 and 2020, 10 ballot measures have appeared on even-numbered year ballots in Texas compared to 251 ballot measures on odd-numbered year ballots during that same period.

The deadline for state legislators to refer an amendment to the November 2021 ballot was Aug. 16. In November, Texas voters will decide eight constitutional amendments related to taxes, the state judiciary, raffles at rodeo venues, county authorization to issue bonds for infrastructure, designated essential caregivers at nursing facilities, and limitations on religious services. 

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