A very desperate Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (not his real name) threatened to use the so-called “Nuclear Option” to cram through a deeply flawed property tax bill that will shift the tax burden even more on to lower income Texans. Here’s the deal, under long-standing Senate rules to take up debate on legislation, three-fifths of the Senate, or nineteen senators, must vote to move forward. Patrick has warned that he will throw out the three-fifths rule. This is called the “Nuclear Option” because it will destroy decades of tradition in the Senate, a body that has served as bulwark against bad legislation because the three-fifths rule requires consensus-building and reaching across the aisle. Feckless Republican leadership was ready to go along with Patrick.
But on Monday, hold out Sen. Kel Selinger (R-Amarillo) relented and allowed the bill to come to the floor for debate despite his strong opposition to the substance. It seems that Selinger (one of the only Texas Republicans with any backbone) was willing to allow bad legislation to proceed in order to preserve Senate tradition. Selinger likely recognized that Patrick’s petulant behavior was the bigger danger in the long run than debating a very flawed tax bill. Patrick could have won a pyric victory by exploding Senate consensus – a move that would have long term consequences should the Democrats ever regain power.
And the legislation itself? Patrick’s bill would have capped property tax revenue growth for local governments, special taxing districts and school districts at 2.5 percent a year, a threshold that many local government officials have said is way too low and will negatively impact their ability to provide critical government services like police and fire protection. As a compromise to get Selinger on board, the proposed legislation now sports a 3.5% annual cap. In any event, local governments could exceed the cap with voter approval. The real kicker, however, is the likely tie into a yet to be filed bill that will increase the state sales tax by 1%. That is the most regressive form of taxation and will likely pass.