AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After more than two decades in Liberty Hill, Lyndon Ebright and his wife have built a good life in their forever home.
“I’ve got a lot of sweat labor involved on the property,” Ebright said. He works on wood and metal projects in his backyard shop while his wife tends to a vegetable garden just under the patio he built.
But those improvements, and the furious development of the greater Austin area, are taking their toll on their tax bills.
“I’ll be priced out of the house,” Ebright said. “I’ll be forced to sell, and I don’t want to be forced to sell just because I gotta pay my taxes.”
Ebright is recently retired and on a fixed income. They have no debt and have paid off their house, but Ebright is still concerned about their long-term stability because of one creeping cost — property taxes.
In 2018, the Williamson Central Appraisal District valued Ebright’s home at $71,506. This year, that value has ballooned to $137,971.
“It’s a massive increase in five years. An unrealistic increase in five years,” Ebright said. “When you’re on a fixed income, you got to watch pretty carefully. I feel sorry for a lot of the other senior citizens in this state.”
In 2019, Ebright’s estimated tax bill from only Liberty Hill ISD was $826.32. Based on the current value of his home and the school district’s maintenance and operations tax rate, that bill would be about $1,138 — not including the other entities that levy their own property taxes like the emergency services district, a road fund, and Williamson County itself.
State leaders are working overtime in a special legislative session to try and bring that total down. But after six months of heralding property tax relief as their top priority, top Texas Republicans are at an intractable impasse.
Gov. Greg Abbott has proposed using $17.6 billion — about half of the state’s historic budget surplus — to lower school district property tax rates. Under his plan, the state would “buy down” tax rates by 26 cents for every hundred dollars of a home’s valuation. State leaders and policy wonks refer to this as “tax rate compression.”
That plan would save Ebright just over $200.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his Texas Senate are unanimously backing an alternative plan. It spends the same $17.6 billion and dedicates about 70 percent of it to tax rate compression — but it also increases the homestead exemption by two and a half times. Texans can currently deduct $40,000 of their home’s value from taxation. Patrick wants to increase that to $100,000.
That plan would save Ebright more than $700 — about $500 more than Abbott’s plan.
“I like that,” Ebright said. “It’s a chop right off the top.”
Yet, the Texas House and Gov. Abbott have made clear they are not in favor of touching the homestead exemption. The Texas Senate has also made clear they are not backing down from that fight. For the foreseeable future, the stalemate persists.
“I will call special session after special session after special session until the solution is reached,” Gov. Abbott told reporters this week.
That prolonged uncertainty is adding to the frustrations of Texans like Ebright.
“These guys are fooling around with all these cultural issues, but deal with something that helps Texans, you know, deal with their property taxes,” he said. “Something’s gotta be done. Especially for senior citizens. I hate to see any seniors get forced out of their house. That would be a problem.”