HOUSTON - Calling it the "biggest property tax cut in the history of the world," Texas leaders and lawmakers gathered before the cameras in New Caney for a collective victory lap over the $18 billion they are refunding to millions of our state's landowners.
"We know whose money that is! That money belongs to the taxpayers, and we are giving it back to the taxpayers of Texas," said Governor Greg Abbott.
SUGGESTED: Texas Governor signs state property tax cut
"Most governments don't even have $18 billion, and those who do have never cut their property taxes anywhere near that," said Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, leader of the Texas Senate.
Amid the mutual congratulations, not a hint of the animus generated by months of brutal, mostly Republican back-and-forth over the cash distribution.
What ultimately emerged was a Senate dominated plan which "permanently" raises the homestead exemption on school taxes from $40,000 to $100,000 per year, benefiting 5.7 million households.
The measure also eliminates the franchise tax for 67,000 Texas businesses while temporarily capping property appraisal rates in a move widely viewed as a significant concession to the House.
"That means every home in this state gets a 41 percent reduction in one year," said State Senator Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican and author of the upper chamber's tax relief legislation.
House Speaker Dade Phelan underscored the enormity of the rebate by comparing it with a much more modest relief package approved in rival Florida.
"The Florida delegation, including the House Speaker, were bragging about their $2 billion tax rebate. I wasn't going to say anything, but I said, that's cute. Everything is bigger in Texas, including our tax reform," said Phelan.
Barely a month ago, the legislature was still locked in a nasty stalemate over how best to return the surplus billions to Texans.
On the stage in New Caney, Republican leaders combined "hatchet burying" with "credit taking" in a conspicuous display of closing ranks.
"It took a little time, but what we delivered to the taxpayers is the best product from both chambers and all the ideas the Governor laid out right now are going to impact your pocketbook. You are going to feel it. You are actually going to see it," said Phelan.
As for the roughly 40 percent of Texans who rent their dwellings and received no rebate, Bettencourt and Patrick contend the permanent increase in the homestead exemption will lower monthly mortgage payments and make it far easier for aspiring first-time buyers to move from leasing to owning.
"We've got the greatest tax cut in the history of the world," said Bettencourt.
While the homeowner focused relief package differed from the more "corporate friendly" option the Governor preferred, the massive rebate fulfills a "core" promise made in Abbott's re-election campaign.
"These monumental accomplishments were achieved because of the Lt. Governor and the Speaker working together and the House and Senate coming together to insure Texans the tax relief they desperately deserve," said Abbott.
Voters will get the final word in November with a constitutional amendment on the ballot.