Texas Senator Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, and Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, were actively involved in the 87th legislative session to ensure that counties and parishes disproportionately affected by the 100% property tax for disabled veterans to be more eligible for government reimbursement exemption.
The current law provides that only counties with all or part of a military facility and communities immediately adjacent to the facility are eligible for reimbursement.
Buckingham is the elected officer for Senate District 24, which includes all of the Bell, Coryell, and Lampasas districts.
Senator Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway
Buckley represents Texas House District 54, which covers parts of southern Bell County, including most of Killeen, all of Harker Heights and Nolanville, and all of Lampasas County.
Brad Buckley, R-Salado
The State Representative tabled House Bill 125 before the November 9, 2020 session began. She has been with the Grants Committee since February 25.
If passed, House Bill would add 125 parishes that have extraterritorial jurisdiction within two miles of a military establishment.
Translation: Harker Heights and Nolanville (in central Texas).
The identical Buckingham and Buckley bills – Senate Bill 524 and House Bill 4150, respectively – would do so and increase the number of eligible counties.
SB 524 and HB 4150 would amend Section 140.011 (a) (2) of Local Government Act to include a “local government” including a county with fewer than 200,000 residents that is adjacent to two counties that contain the same US Army installation, from which no one has more than 1.25 million inhabitants.
Translation: Lampasas County.
The only United States Army installation located in two counties in Texas is Fort Hood.
Fort Bliss in El Paso is entirely included in El Paso County.
The San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Joint Base is entirely located in Bexar County and under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force.
In a March 18 statement, Buckley said, “… In such a challenging legislature, it is more important than ever to have as many options as possible.”
Buckley clarified his comments on Thursday, stressing that no bill can pass Texan legislation without support in the House of Representatives and without support in the Senate.
So Buckley submitted an identical companion to Buckinghams SB 524.
“We’d been talking about working together to try and find options to move the ball across the field,” said Buckley. “… I tabled the other bill (4150) just because it was her companion.
SB 524 is currently a member of the Finance Committee of which Buckingham is a member.
What would happen if HB 125 passed and SB 524 or HB 4150?
“Senate Bill 524 seeks to achieve the same goal as House Bill 125 while expanding the jurisdiction to which the bills would apply,” Buckingham said. “If both existed, they would both technically go into effect and achieve the same thing at their base, but the additional counties would be included in the law.”
Buckley used a baseball reference to describe what it would be like to pass HB 125 versus HB 4150 or SB 524.
“You want to get the home run, but you may have to get the double,” Buckley said.
He said if HB 125 passes, but neither HB 4150 nor SB 524, he will continue to push that legislation as long as he continues to be elected to represent House District 54.
Under current law, Killeen and Copperas Cove, and Bell and Coryell counties, are the only central Texas local governments that qualify for the state reimbursement program.
In fiscal 2020, Killeen received a refund of $ 3.1 million, compared to $ 1.25 million in fiscal 2019 and $ 1.2 million in fiscal 2018.
Copperas Cove received $ 732,029 in fiscal 2020, significantly more than the $ 292,691 in fiscal 2019 and $ 307,519 in fiscal 2018.
Cities received more than they did in FY20 than in the previous two years as Buckley successfully insisted in his first term on getting more government funding for the program.
As part of the Budgets Committee, he helped increase funding for the current reimbursement program by $ 13 million in 2019. The 2020-2021 budget allocated US $ 20 million (up from US $ 6.25 million) to reimbursement of eligible cities and counties over a two-year period.
The Homestead Exemption for Disabled Veterans was passed in 2009 during the 81st Legislative Session that found that veterans who have been granted 100% disability status by the Department of Veterans Affairs are exempt from paying property taxes in the state of Texas .
During the 82nd legislative session in 2011, Texan lawmakers added surviving spouses of qualified disabled veterans who have passed away as those who qualify for the exemption.
The exemption allows disabled veterans not to pay property taxes, which in Killeen and other veteran-borne cities affects tax revenue used to fund the local police force, school, and various city departments.
The reimbursement program was passed by the 84th legislature in 2015.
Buckley knows he will again need more state funding to add Harker Heights and Nolanville as beneficiaries and Lampasas County as beneficiaries if either of the two identical bills goes through.
Current budget writers are trying to add another $ 5 million to the reimbursement program, Buckley explained on Thursday.
That’s pretty close to a bill that Buckingham submitted in 2019.
“I tabled similar bills in the last term that would have achieved the same thing as Rep Buckley’s House Bill 125 from that term. The tax return last year was around $ 6 million, “Buckingham said, adding that funding would likely come from General Revenue.
Buckley explained why it is imperative to add funding as the new bills pass.
“If you really look at the Senate bill and my 4150, that would include more people taking some of the cake that is available,” Buckley said. “… you don’t have the same cake and cut it into smaller pieces.”
Buckley added that the budget process for this session is more difficult than the last due to the loss of revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. He said the state was in better shape than originally thought by lawmakers, but there wasn’t much excess money.
Copperas Cove officials said Thursday the city was neither for nor against the laws tabled by Buckingham and Buckley.
“The city supports veterans and service to our land,” said Ryan Haverlah, manager of Copperas Cove City. “The city would help the state fully fund the reimbursements for all communities that are 100% eligible for the 100% property tax exemption for disabled veterans.”
Harker Heights, which will benefit from the legislation, is of course for it.
“Our attitude has not changed – our veterans are important and valuable to this community and deserve the benefits that are offered to them,” said Jerry Bark, assistant city manager on Friday. “We continue to urge the state to recognize that this exemption has a disproportionate impact on our communities and that it is an unsustainable situation.”