Weekly Special Session Recap: Bad Tax Bill, Annexation Reform, Sunset Legislation Signed Into Law & More / Remembering Governor Mark White

Final Countdown

The Texas House addressed issues this week that will affect Texans from all corners of the state:

  • Bad Tax Bill
  • Annexation Reform
  • Tax Relief For Veterans
  • Banning Insurance Coverage For Abortions
  • Mail-In Voter Suppression
  • Reprieval For Property Damaged by Natural Disasters
  • Sunset Legislation

Below is our weekly recap of the 85th Special Session.

Bad Tax Bill Passes House Today

This week, the House passed Senate Bill 1SB 1(85(1))that will limit local control in Texas through enacting automatic roll back elections. Policies like this one that limit local control are bad for Texans.  Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick tried to force these policies through the Texas Legislature during both the 85th regular and special sessions. Senate Bill 2 during the regular session and SB 1(85(1)) during the special session would create automatic roll back elections that could easily cripple local governments.

SB 1(85(1)) would require local governments to hold an election if the revenue raised is increased above a certain percentage. That percentage is known as the roll back rate. Currently the roll back rate is 8%. If the revenue raised is increased by a percentage greater than the roll back rate, the registered voters of that local government can file a petition to hold an election on the new rate. If the voters vote against the rate increase the rate is moved back to the roll back rate which is currently 8%.

Additionally, revenue raised by a local government can exceed the roll back rate even in situations where the amount an individual pays in taxes remains the same. This is because when cities grow, the amount of revenue raised increases considering there are more people and companies paying taxes. For example Harris County has grown by 470,000 people in the last 6 years.

SB 1(85(1)) as it passed the Senate would lower the roll back rate and require an election to be automatically held without having the citizens petition the local government. The goal of this policy is to suffocate local governments. The concept to suffocate government through arbitrarily limiting their ability to raise revenue was popularized by the economist Grover Norquist. By limiting the revenue a government body can take in, it forces the body to cut services to the people.

Automatic roll back elections do not provide significant tax relief, however they will limit local control, and create a long list of challenges that will be detrimental to Texans.

Texas local governments-cities, counties, community colleges and hospital districts-provide vital services to their constituents. Locally elected officials decide how to provide these services and how to pay for them, an arrangement that reflects the values and desires of local voters. SB 1(85(1)) would interfere in the ability of local governments to serve their people, by preventing them from collecting enough revenue needed to deliver the public safety, health care, education, parks, libraries and other services their communities want and need.

Additionally, requiring automatic roll back elections is unnecessary because Texans can already vote to roll back the revenue increase. Right now, if there is an 8-percent revenue increase from property taxes voters are able to petition for an election to be held on the issue. Furthermore, if the citizens do not agree with the actions of their local government, they can vote them out.

It is important to remember why Texas relies so heavily on property taxes: to fund public schools. In 2011, the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education and has yet to fully restore those cuts. 

Texas has no state income tax; therefore it relies heavily on sales and property taxes. The state and local entities split sales taxes, but only local entities receive property taxes. It’s unconstitutional for the state to levy property taxes, and state lawmakers do not have the power to set those rates. If property taxes are the problem, the solution begins with the funding our public schools. Property tax reform is public school finance reform.

Annexation Reform

During the 85th Regular Session, Senate Bill 715 would have changed the annexation process, making it much more difficult for cities to annex property. SB 715(85(R)) would have become law if not for Senator José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) filibustering the bill on the final day for the Senate to approve conference committee reports. During the special session, Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) called a successful point of order, effectively killing the bill.

Annexation is a valuable tool for city planners. State annexation rules are already complex and limit how much property cities may annex. Holding an election costs money and could create a financial burden. In 1999, the Texas Legislature passed legislation mandating that cities had to submit an annexation plan at least three years before they absorbed a new area.

I opposed this legislation during the regular session, and will continue to oppose it during the Special Session. We need to address real issues like school finance reform and the sunset bill instead of needless attacks on local control.

Tax Relief For Veterans

HB 129 amends the disability rating for veterans with a disability rating of 80% but less than 100% to have a homestead exemption equal to the disabled veteran’s rating.

HB 115 expands which active military personnel can defer delinquent property taxes, in turn allowing them to pay delinquent property taxes without penalty within 60 days after the individual is discharged, returns to Texas for more than 10 days or returns back to non-active duty reserves. Current law requires that the person on active duty can only seek the deferral during a war or a nationally declared emergency.

While it’s important to give back to our veterans and honor their service, there are concerns that these bills will have a negative impact on local taxing units and the revenue they can generate.

Banning Insurance Coverage For Abortions

House Bill 214 (HB 214) would require women to pay a separate premium if they want their health plan to cover an elective abortion passed the House this week. Thanks to our democratic allies like Rep. Carol Alvarado, Rep. Chris Turner, Rep. Donna Howard, Rep. Nicole Collier, and Rep. Victoria Neave for fearlessly standing up against anti-choice legislation in Texas by proposing amendments that would add exceptions for severe fetal abnormalities, ectopic pregnancies, rape, incest and the mental health of the mother.The bill ultimately passed 92-46 and heads to the Senate, where an identical measure already passed.

Mail-In Voter Suppression

Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) increases penalties for voter fraud, thus creating a new Class A misdemeanor for voter fraud. It also adds language regarding the preservation of records, illicit use of application for ballot by mail, creating certain notices, and signature verification. The bill also outlines how long precinct election records shall be kept after election day.

It’s important to deter mail in ballot fraud and improve the voting process for all Texans. However, simply increasing and creating penalties will do little to keep bad actors from committing these types of offenses. This bill may also have unintended consequences in creating the new penalty for election fraud.

Reprieve For Property Damaged by Natural Disasters

House Bill 331 (HB 331) would amend the property tax appraisal process by requiring a chief appraiser within a disaster area to reappraise property that sustained a certain percentage of damage. The appraisal shall reflect market value and be completed as soon as possible. This process is currently only on a voluntary basis and HB 331 would make it mandatory.The appraiser has 45 days after the Governor declares a state of emergency to complete the reappraisal. However, the date is reliant on Federal Emergency Management Agency’s damage estimates and subject to change if they have not completed their estimates.

This bill would provide a more accurate appraisal for homeowners who have survived natural disasters. Since this is currently voluntary there could be instances of homeowners paying property taxes on an appraisal that doesn’t reflect the status of their property. These types of reforms will provide necessary relief to Texans and provide some assistance during a difficult situation.

Sunset Legislation

On Thursday, the House passed the critical sunset legislation that will extend operations for several state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board. The agencies were all slated for closure without passage of this legislation. Governor Abbott signed this legislation into law on Friday, August 11, 2017.

Remembering Governor Mark White

Last Saturday, former Texas Governor Mark White passed away. He was a prime example of Texas leadership based on statesmanship, democratic ideals, and good government.

You can read in-depth coverage honoring the life and legacy of Governor Mark White in the New York Times and Houston Chronicle. I reflect on one of my most cherished memories here:

On February 26, 2008, former Governor Mark White publicly backed Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential nominee. I was honored attend a press conference with Governor White at Houston’s St. Joseph Hospital to announce his support for then-Senator Obama in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination.

While most of the Texas political establishment was backing Hillary Clinton, Governor White said this about President Obama:

“Barack’s vision is exactly what our nation needs right now. He offers America the opportunity to move beyond the divisive politics and moneyed special interests and start addressing the many great challenges we face as a nation.”

Governor White’s courage to do what was best instead of what was easy or popular made him a great statesman.

Governor Mark White’s processional arrives at the Texas State Capitol.

Representative Coleman reflecting on the late Governor Mark White.

Governor Mark White’s casket being carried to the Capitol rotunda on August 10, 2017.

Representative Coleman and Mrs. Linda Gale White on August 10, 2017.

Representative Coleman reflects on former Governor Mark White publicly backing Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008.

In honor of his legacy, our song of the week is “Houston (I’m Comin’ to See You)” by Glen Campbell.

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