By\u00a0Joshua Fechter\r\nWith the renewed backing of Gov.\u00a0Greg Abbott, legislation to cut property tax rates is on a fast track through the Texas Legislature.\r\nRepublican lawmakers including Abbott have faced pressure from the party\u2019s right flank to target the state\u2019s high property taxes. Backers have pointed to the $19 billion in federal stimulus money that has been set aside for Texas public schools and a\u00a0nearly $8 billion\u00a0surplus sitting in state coffers as an opportunity for the state to provide some temporary property tax relief.\r\n\u201cThe obvious is that when you have excess funds, you should be giving some of it back to the taxpayers,\u201d said state Sen.\u00a0Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican, and author of the property tax legislation.\r\nLawmakers are quickly pushing through a $2 billion tax-cut bill that\u2019s aimed at shaving about $200 off of an average Texas homeowner\u2019s tax tab. The measure sailed through the state Senate by a 30-1 vote Wednesday afternoon, hours after Abbott added property tax relief to his list of items for state legislators to tackle during this year\u2019s third special session.\r\nBettencourt\u2019s bill now heads to the House, where Speaker\u00a0Dade Phelan\u00a0has\u00a0signaled an eagerness\u00a0to tackle the matter.\r\nProperty tax reform has long been a pet issue for Texas Republicans. But even as Abbott included the relief in previous special session agendas, it flew under the radar as conservative social issues, the pandemic, the Texas power grid, and the GOP voting bill grabbed the spotlight.\r\nA version of Bettencourt\u2019s bill made it to the House during the previous legislative session \u2014 but lawmakers ran out of time to take it up.\r\nAbbott\u2019s revived interest in property tax relief comes as he faces a March primary that\u2019s testing his goodwill with the party\u2019s right wing. Don Huffines, a former state senator challenging Abbott, needled the governor for initially leaving property tax cuts off the third special session agenda.\r\nBefore Abbott\u2019s move, Lt. Gov.\u00a0Dan Patrick\u00a0appeared primed to push forward on property tax relief with or without Abbott\u2019s blessing. In a session primarily called so lawmakers could fulfill a once-a-decade requirement to redraw the state\u2019s political maps using the latest census data, Patrick deemed legislation cutting property taxes his top priority.\r\n\u201cThis represents a quantum shift in the way we think about spending surplus dollars,\u201d Patrick said last week. \u201cTax relief must come first \u2014 before new spending.\u201d\r\nWhen Abbott joined Patrick in prioritizing property tax cuts this week, he said it was \u201ccrucial to improving the quality of life for all Texans.\u201d\r\nTax relief for property owners joins a crowded to-do list for Texas lawmakers this session \u2014 which includes redistricting, considering whether COVID-19 vaccines can be mandated, and figuring out how to spend $16 billion in federal stimulus dollars to help the state bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.\r\nAlso on the list: restrictions on what sports teams transgender student athletes can join, another Patrick priority. Patrick had called on Abbott to make lawmakers take up the matter in a special session after it failed in the regular session.\r\n\u201cPatrick is acting like Abbott\u2019s political id, the reflexive political part of the governor\u2019s brain driven by base instincts of political survival,\u201d said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. \u201cWhen Abbott is worried about the base, he listens to Patrick.\u201d\r\nBut unlike some of the red-meat issues held dear by social conservatives, cutting property taxes holds broad appeal, political analysts said.\r\n\u201cI think they are responding to significant and intense concerns that average taxpayers have,\u201d said Matt Mackowiak, Travis County Republican Party chair. \u201cAnd I think it would be hard to go through a regular session and three special sessions and not have property taxes meaningfully addressed.\u201d\r\nThe main vehicle for property tax relief this session is\u00a0Senate Bill 1\u00a0\u2014 authored by Bettencourt, Patrick\u2019s chief lieutenant on property taxes.\r\nUnder the bill, the state would use $2 billion in state funds to replace public education funding that would otherwise be collected by a school property tax, the bulk of a homeowner\u2019s tax bill. School districts would have to lower their tax rates during the 2022-23 school year.\r\nFor a homeowner whose property is worth $300,000, the median value of a Texas home, that translates to $200 in temporary tax relief next year, according to Bettencourt\u2019s office \u2014 though school district property tax rates can vary.\r\n\u201cIt's a fantastic bill for property taxpayers of all types, whether they\u2019re where people work, where they sleep ... it will help everyone out,\u201d Bettencourt said on the Senate floor Wednesday.\r\nIf the Texas economy grows enough by June, the total state revenue used to offset property taxes could grow to $4 billion. In that instance, the median homeowner would see at least $300 in tax savings.\r\nBut even some Senate Republicans who voted for the bill have raised concerns. Consumers regaining confidence in the economy has bolstered the state\u2019s revenue and helped put an extra $8 billion in the piggy bank, state Sen.\u00a0Charles Perry, R-Lubbock said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday \u2014 but who knows how long that will last?\r\n\u201cI have some real concerns that we're spending money we don't have,\u201d Perry said.\r\nOthers worried the tax relief wasn\u2019t enough. Texas property owners pay some of the highest tax rates in the nation \u2014 a byproduct of public schools\u2019 reliance on property taxes for funding and a lack of a state income tax.\r\nTo give tax relief to homeowners one year only to have taxes go up again the next is a tough sell, said state Sen.\u00a0Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.\r\n\u201cI think we're all supportive of reducing taxes ... but for me to go back and just tell people, \u2018well this is just temporary, probably, maybe we don't really know, we'll have to wait and see,\u2019 I don't like to give talks like that,\u201d Nichols said. \u201cI would much rather have a permanent solution.\u201d\r\nTexas lawmakers have chipped away at school property tax rates in the past two years. House Bill 3, the landmark $11.6 billion school finance bill, included $5.1 billion in tax cuts on top of $6.5 billion in new spending. The bill put caps on school districts\u2019 tax rates \u2014 caps that would become more stringent under SB 1.\r\n\u201cWe don't have any plan to replace those property tax revenues,\u201d said Chandra Kring Villanueva, a program director at the left-leaning Every Texan, formerly the Center for Public Policy Priorities. \u201cSo each year, the state has to take on a greater and greater percentage of school funding. But none of those dollars benefit the classroom.\u201d\r\nBettencourt dismissed those concerns.\r\n\u201cCertainly, by any measurement, that type of dramatic increase in funding into the public school system doesn\u2019t leave me with any understanding of how people are underfunded at this point,\u201d Bettencourt said.\r\nThis story originally published by the Texas Tribune.