Abbott signs property tax reform bill into law

The signing ceremony for Senate Bill 2 took place Wednesday at a north Austin burger joint on a sizzling parking lot where Gov. Greg Abbott was joined by the Lt Governor, House Speaker and state lawmakers who pushed through the controversial reform bill.

"What this does, is achieve something that has never been done before with regard to property tax reforms in the past,” said Abbott.

Wally's Burger Express was selected for the ceremony in order to represent small business across the state. The family-owned railroad-themed fast food restaurant has been on Mesa Drive since 1974. The taxes here are pretty steep, according to owner Robert Mayfield.

"$8,000 in taxes over the last year, that’s tough for anybody,” Mayfield said. “And since 2009, they've been up 80 percent. And every year we look at that and are appalled at what we see.”

Mayfield also has other fast food spots and employs about 200 people. A growing tax bill could eventually force cut backs.

"Something had to stop sooner or later, it’s not sustainable. We can’t charge $10 for a hamburger and everybody pay for it, just to pay for the property taxes,” said Mayfield.

A legislative combo meal is one way to describe SB 2. It’s tied to House Bill 3 which the governor signed Tuesday, changing education funding by increasing state spending while lowering property tax rates. 

To protect that funding formula, SB 2 requires voter approval before a proposed tax hike can be done. The amount triggering a vote for schools is 2.5 percent. The cap for all other taxing entities is 3.5 percent.

"Three and a half percent is the point where you go have an honest conversation with your taxpayer and your voter and if they can convince them they deserve more revenues, they can get them,” said Speaker Dennis Bonnen.

Several county and city officials were upset with what state lawmakers were serving up. Some were even threatened to cut public safety budgets if SB 2 passed. It was an argument few bought under the capitol dome.

"I think when you look at their overall budgets, and when they talk about cutting, they have a lot of things they can cut before law enforcement,” said state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Travis County).

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said SB 2 will prevent an appraisal value from being used as a weapon against property taxes.

"This was a train wreck coming, and we put a stop to the train wreck this session,” Patrick said.

The Lt Governor and House Speaker also warned cities and counties to not create any new fees to get around SB 2. If that happens, both promised to shut them down in the next legislative session.