AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently supported a property tax lawsuit against the Kilgore Independent School District.
Paxton said the Kilgore district violated not only state law but also the Texas Constitution when it repealed the district’s local option homestead tax exemption.
Paxton intervened in a similar case Sept. 15 against the White Deer Independent School District.
In an effort to help Texas residents lower their property taxes, the Texas Legislature enacted property tax relief. Senate Bill 1 (S.B. 1) which increased the homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000. This tax break would not hurt school districts’ funding, as the legislature would pay for any funds lost in the school budget due to the tax breaks.
When the Texas Legislature passed S.B.1 and a Senate joint resolution (SJR) last May, it received unanimous support. 138-0 in the House and 25-0 in the Senate. Also in 2016, 86 percent voters ratified the amendment, which marked one of the highest amendment margins in recent state history.
However, Kilgore opted to reduce or repeal their local option homestead exemption and, instead, assess its own tax rate on homeowners, in violation of the law and bringing the lawsuit in which Paxton is intervening.
According to case documents, Kilgore had ample time to comply with the Senate bill. Once voters approved the Senate joint resolution Nov. 3, 2015, the law officially changed, and all existing optional homestead exemptions in 2014 were locked in at that rate through 2019.
Before the lawsuit was filed, officials and public figures repeatedly notified school districts such as Kilgore about their obligation and opportunity to revert to 2014 optional homestead exemption rates.
On Sept. 9, 2015, Paxton shared this notification publicly with the comptroller of public accountants and later explained in an official opinion that, “Subsection 11.13(n-1) of the tax code prohibits a school district, municipality or county from repealing or reducing the local option homestead exemption from the amount that was adopted for the 2014 tax year through the 2019 tax year.”
In other words, an attempt to alter a local option homestead exemption from what it was in 2014 would be in violation of the law.
The Texas Association of School Boards notified all the school boards of Paxton’s opinion and encouraged compliance. A month later, the Office of the CPA asked 24 school districts “whether you were considering reinstating your 2014 local option homestead for the percentage for the 2016 tax year in light of the attorney general’s KP-0072.”
Finally, on June 15, 2016, Paxton and the Texas Education Commissioner sent a joint letter to 21 school districts to let them know they were still in violation of S.B. 1 and urged them to comply.
"Local government cannot be allowed to simply ignore laws they do not like,” Paxton said. “This is a blatant attempt by a school district to take away from Texas homeowners, without their consent, what rightfully belongs to them—their own money. I am confident the local taxpayers and the state will prevail in this lawsuit and the suits to come.”
Below is a list of the other school districts that reduced or repealed their local option homestead exemptions in 2015: