State Rep. Dennis Bonnen took the gavel as Speaker of the House yesterday, and asked for cooperation across the aisles (Photo courtesy Rep. Bonnen’s Facebook page).

Bathrooms? That’s so 2017. The new hot legislative priorities lighting up Austin this legislative session are school finance and property taxes.

Think I’m kidding? New House Speaker Dennis Bonnen put it on a cup — actually, every cup in the Senate lounge is now emblazoned with “School Finance Reform, The Time Is Now.”

The session gaveled in knowing already that state Comptroller Glenn Hegar had told them that they would have about 8.1 percent more in funding available for public programs like schools and healthcare in the next two years, for about a $119.1 billion state budget. But he also cautioned legislators that they wouldn’t be able to make it rain — oil prices are falling and the U.S. economy is uncertain, leaving any prognostication as to how revenue will look a bit muddled.

But one couldn’t help but notice a sense of cooperation in both houses of the state legislature, one not generally felt in the last session, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick embarked on a much-lamented quest for passage of a bathroom bill and school vouchers, both of which failed.

Bonnen, in his address Tuesday, made a plea for more bipartisanship.

“In a state as big and diverse as Texas, there are plenty of ideas about what we should do on any one issue and these ideas often point in different directions,” Bonnen said. “It’s our job to reconcile the differences.”

The makeup of the two bodies is also different this time around. Democrats gained 12 seats in the house last November, with Republicans holding the Texas House with 83 seats to Democrats’ 67. In the Senate, there are 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Thanks to the three-fifths rule, a kill on an unpopular GOP bill like a bathroom bill would be just one Republican renegade away, unlike the last session, when the Democrats were outnumbered 20 to 10.

This pivot away from the unpopular bathroom bill, especially (Patrick even called it “settled” when asked about it Wednesday), bodes well for proponents of retooling public education finance, as well as property owners looking for relief from rising property taxes. (more…)

By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

A reader writes: “I bought a home in 2018 and my taxes are escrowed by my mortgage company. How do I get a homestead exemption to get a discount on my taxes? Do I need to repeat the process every year? How much does it save me?”

You most definitely want to know how to file for a homestead exemption for your 2019 property taxes. To get a homestead exemption, you must own and live in the property as your principal residence as of Jan. 1 of that tax year. So, if you purchased in 2018, you may apply for that exemption after Jan. 1, 2019.

A homestead exemption removes part of your home’s value from taxation, so it lowers your taxes. I don’t know the details about your home to tell you how much a homestead exemption can save on your property taxes, but it is generally about 20 percent. Given the property tax rates in Texas, it is worth the few minutes it takes.  

To qualify, your home must also be owned by you as an individual (or individuals). A corporation or other business entity doesn’t qualify for this exemption. Do not pay someone else to do this for you. It is free and you can do it online in a few minutes.

Here is a step-by-step guide for how to apply for a homestead exemption in the DFW area:

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Election

Voters lined up at the Oak Lawn library Election Day, with more than 400 people casting ballots by lunchtime (photo by Bethany Erickson)

Frisco, Richardson and Dallas ISD Pass Property Tax Increases

  • Allred bests Sessions in U.S. Rep. District 32 race
  • All four propositions on the ballot for Dallas ISD passed
  • Johnson beats Rinaldi, Johnson beats Luby Ryan
  • Carolyn King Arnold, Keyaira Saunders headed to a runoff

While Democrats came surprisingly (to many) close to winning statewide seats on Election Day, ultimately candidates came just short of besting the Republican party across the board in statewide races. How close were the races, despite the losses? In 16 years, Democratic candidates in statewide races have received 45 percent of the vote only twice — last night, nine of them did.

“Today is not a bad day,” Mike Collier, Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, said Tuesday night. “We showed Texas that if you campaign on issues that Texans care about, you can have a strong showing in this state.”

But while the “Beto Effect” may not have bestowed a win on its namesake, it was still impacting races, with the El Paso congressman’s get out the vote effort being attributed to down-ballot flips in several congressional, state, and local races.

After record early voting, Election Day polling locations varied from “ghost towns,” as one poll greeter said, to steadily busy. Turnout increased as schools let out, and as people got off work, volunteers said.

Election Day

After a bit of turmoil during early voting, the Lakeside Activity Center in Mesquite was actually calm and congenial Election Day.

Measures for 13-cent Tax Ratification Elections passed in both Richardson ISD and Dallas ISD. Frisco ISD voters approved a 13-cent tax swap that will move 13 cents from the debt service column to the maintenance and operations column.   (more…)

TREIn a bid to reassure voters, Dallas ISD trustees took the unusual move adopting a resolution that pledges to spend the first projected surplus a tax ratification election, or TRE , could produce on specific initiatives, including one that strategically increases employee salaries.

But the move was not without a lot of debate.  

Trustee Audrey Pinkerton put for a proposed resolution that would have the entire projected $126 million the 13-cent tax increase would generate in the first year be earmarked for those pay raises, with the board pledging to support the other three initiatives — racial equity initiatives, expanding school choice, and expanding pre-K.

But trustee Edwin Flores put forth another resolution that would have the board pledging to spend the entire $126 million on all four initiatives.

And yet another version authored by Lew Blackburn, dubbed the “compromise resolution,” combined the language of Pinkerton’s resolution with the language of the Flores resolution.

This was my attempt to marry two fairly similar resolutions,” he said. Flores said his resolution was modeled on the district’s strategic initiatives for the TRE, and said he wanted to align it with the entire presentation regarding the initiatives.

Legally, a current board cannot bind — or make promises for — a future board. But the resolution circumvented that by only committing the funds that would be generated from the TRE in the first year. (more…)

By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

For most North Texas homeowners, the 2018 tax statements started coming out last week. You may not have received your bill in the mail, but your tax bill is out and due for payment by Jan. 31.

Simply go online and search for your county tax assessor to get your statement before it arrives in the mail. For Dallas County, you can find your statement here.

You’d think property tax bills would be fairly direct: “Here is the property address, here is the tax bill.” But these are government entities. So, let’s see how complicated it really is.

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Tarrant

Photo courtesy Tarrant County

Longtime Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Jacquelyn Wright has had her fair share of controversy in the 28 years she’s served in that position.

But that controversy may be outpaced by Wednesday’s news that a grand jury indicted Wright, 77, on four felony charges related to homestead exemptions she claimed.

It is alleged that she falsely claimed the exemptions on homes she did not live in to avoid paying property taxes on a home on Ivy Hill Road in Fort Worth, the indictment said. Her claims spanned from 2010 to 2018, when she falsely applied for and received a homestead exemption in 2015, 2016, and 2018 for the Ivy Hill Road home. (more…)

By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

We’ve all heard about the two things you can’t avoid – death and taxes. Just like there is a life cycle, there is a property tax cycle. The tax cycle is a lot easier to predict.

This life cycle of property taxes follows the same pattern every year. If you’re a Texas homeowner, your property is somewhere in this predictable rotation.

I offer you a synopsis of the tax collection cycle. Follow along with the snazzy graph I made from information from the Texas Tax Code.

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Special contributor Lydia Blair with Mary Doggett, VP of National Investors Title Insurance

By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Property taxes are the talk of the town right now. Municipalities all over the Metroplex are proposing tax rate increases on top of the frequent increase in property values. This year’s tax bill may be a double whammy for our already steep homeowner taxes. If you’re thinking of avoiding those taxes, here is your warning.

“Texas is pretty efficient with collections or foreclosing because our property taxes are high,” says Mary Doggett, VP of National Investors Title Insurance.

Despite our strong homestead rights in Texas, you can lose your home if you don’t pay your property taxes. Rest assured that the taxing authorities will collect their money one way or another. There is no escaping it.

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