Thursday, May 25, 2017

#TXLEGE: Curtailing the last minute budget nonsense....


"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Matthew 6:21

This morning, we received a grassroots alert about the state budget:
The State Budget Conference Committee is still meeting to resolve the budget differences before the budget goes back to both the House and the Senate to be voted on. Agreement has not yet been reached.
Gov. Abbott has insisted the Conferees add back to the budget these items, which are opposed by a majority of the conservative grassroots groups:
$236 million for Abbott’s "high quality" prekindergarten initiative, taken out of schools' basic funding
$16 million for Abbott’s university scholar recruitment program
$86 million for Abbott’s Texas Enterprise Fund & $22 million for Film & Music Industry incentives (Corporate Welfare)
Total: $360 million!
Our pro-life wins in the House are also in jeopardy of being removed!
Please weigh in right now by telling the Budget Conferees you want the following:
1) Eliminate state funding for abortion providers & affiliates (i.e. Planned Parenthood)
2) Fund alternatives to abortion at the full $38.3 million for two years
3) No raid on the Rainy Day Fund or Transportation funds!
4) Fully defund the Enterprise Fund (Corporate Welfare)
5) Fully defund Film & Music subsidies (Corporate Welfare)
6) Ensure 24 full payments to the Permanent School Fund – no budget gimmick here!
7) Don’t rob basic school funding for new Pre-K programs.

Even if you don’t agree with all of these points, pick those you do and contact the Budget Conference Committee members ASAP! 
If you wait, it may be too late & then we’ll be faced with trying to defeat the budget – which is MORE difficult!
This is correct: The budget isn't a done deal...yet.

But we do have to say, that we're even "having this conversation" in the final few days of session is incredibly irritating.

One caveat: This is not another 2013.  For as much as we disagree with the allocation and gimmickry in this budget, it's not a 26% spending increase.  We still expect the top line number to come in below the Conservative Texas Budget target announced last summer.

[Note: Woe unto the legislature if they fail to come under that target.]

Bottom Line: It just is what it is, but what it is is incredibly irritating....

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Senator Jane Nelson: (512) 463-0112

Representative John Zerwas: (512) 463-0567

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

#TXLEGE: Another issue where Abbott's actions don't match his words....


"For you were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and according to all that the Lord your God says, so declare to us and we will do it.’ "
Jeremiah 42:20

We haven't had the bandwidth to cover election integrity issues this session, but we signed this letter and ABSOLUTELY concur:

Primary Voter ID failures lie with Texas' Republican Congressional delegation; #TXLEGE failures are incidental....


"But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
Revelation 21:8

Empower Texans has a piece on this week's Voter ID discussion:
With the clock ticking and an important deadline looming, House lawmakers passed a fix to the state’s voter ID bill with only a few hours to spare.

Responding to a last-minute push by Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas House moved yesterday to give preliminary approval to Senate Bill 5 by State Sen. Joan Huffman (R–Houston) – a measure designed to preserve Texas’ Voter ID law by amending the statute to incorporate a court order. Though the bill sailed through the Texas Senate in early March, it had long been obstructed in the Texas House.

In short, SB 5 would implement much of the court-ordered changes to the state’s law which has been on the books (and in court rooms) since passing in 2011. Huffman’s legislation would allow registered voters who fail to produce a photo ID to cast a ballot after showing common documents that contain their name and address.
The Trib details the most problematic amendment:
But the House accepted an amendment authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, that would reduce the penalty to a Class A misdemeanor, which carries no more than a year of jail time.

That was a win for Democrats and civil rights groups that had called the legislation a good start but want ID options beyond what was in the bill — student IDs or tribal IDs, for instance — and raised particular concerns over the Senate bill's stricter penalties.

More than 16,400 Texas voters signed “reasonable impediment” affidavits during the 2016 general election, according to a tally of documents provided by the Texas Secretary of State’s office. And an Associated Press analysis found at least 500 instances in which voters signed the affidavit — and didn’t show photo ID — despite indicating that they owned one, a phenomenon some county clerks attributed to widespread confusion about legal changes just ahead of the election.

That’s why some Republicans argued for strict penalties for false claims. Democrats called it it too harsh for the crime — particularly in cases where a Texan is otherwise casting a legal vote.
We could write a piece ripping on Joe Straus for slow walking this bill, and Phil King for being a dingus and accepting that amendment. Both of those things are certainly true.  But the real failures lie with Congress, and specifically with the Republican caucus of the Texas delegation.

If the Republicans in Texas' congressional delegation were doing their job, Joe Straus would be irrelevant.

There's a simple solution to this problem: Amend the (federal) Voting Rights Act to explicitly state that state level voter ID laws are ok.

Obviously, the only thing missing is political will, and no Texas Republican (Note: including Louie Gohmert and Ted Cruz) is stepping up to the plate.

Bottom Line: It's bad enough that they're dropping the ball on national issues, but the failure of Texas' congressional delegation to protect the State from federal lawsuits (which enables additional shenanigans from Straus) is a whole separate outrage.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#TXLEGE: City of Austin's session gets a little bit worse!!!


"Talk no more so very proudly;
Let no arrogance come from your mouth,
For the Lord is the God of knowledge;
And by Him actions are weighed.
1 Samuel 2:3

Lost in the end of session shuffle, check out this amendment that Jason Isaac managed to tack onto another bill at the last moment:
Notwithstanding any other law, a municipality to which this chapter applies may not designate a district under this chapter if the municipality has adopted a requirement in any form, including through an ordinance or regulation or as a condition for granting a building permit, that establishes a maximum sales price for a privately produced housing unit or residential building lot. The restriction described by this subsection does not apply to property that is part of an urban land bank program.
Isaac's amendment precludes a price control scheme that is sometimes euphemistically mislabeled as "inclusionary zoning;" the Foundation for Economic Education details this practice:
But the latest trend in socially conscious planning is so-called “inclusionary zoning,” which mandates some portion of new, market-priced housing developments be set aside for low-income persons who will be charged below-market rates.

The idea is to make the rich subsidize housing for the poor. But this acts as a price ceiling on new units that actually discourages rather than encourages new construction.
Currently, Austin does not engage in this practice.  That being said, we've been hearing for months that Council was planning to push "IZ" forward as soon as the lege leaves town.  Fortunately, Isaac's amendment pre-emptively prohibits going down this rabbit hole.

Bottom Line: Nicely done....

Monday, May 22, 2017

#TXLEGE: Larry Taylor's quiet revolution....


"For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life."
Galatians 6:8

This is very, very good:
The Texas Senate approved 21-10 a bill early Monday morning that would inject about $530 million into the public education system while creating a so-called school choice system that would redirect state money to help students pay for private school tuition.

House Bill 21, originally would have injected $1.6 billion extra into the public school system through updating and adding various elements to the school funding formula. However, the Senate has reduced the extra funding to about half a billion dollars, which would go to pay for:
  • $150 million for about 150 school districts that will lose so-called Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction funding in September through a hardship grant program. The amount of grant money such school districts would receive would be based on their tax rate.
  • More funding for school district construction and establish such funding for the first time for charter schools. 
  • Funding for schools to educate students with dyslexia.
  • $20 million grant program for public schools to educate students with autism in third grade and lower.
  • A state commission to study and make recommendations on how to improve the school finance system.
The Austin school district would not receive any extra funding from HB 21....
Here's the thing: For as much as we would love to dismantle the socialized education industrial complex, that's...probably not feasible...in the short to medium term. Too many people have a romantic attachment to so-called "public schools."  In our pluralistic society, a short-term compromise that moves the ball forward in terms of parental choice and simplified funding formulas would represent tangible progress for students and taxpayers.

And, from that place of tangible progress, we can prepare our next ask.

We concur with this statement from TPPF:

TPPF Applauds Legislation Providing Education Savings Accounts for Children with Special Needs

House Bill 21 includes education savings accounts for special needs students
AUSTIN – Texas Public Policy Foundation’s (TPPF) Dr. Kevin Roberts, executive vice president of TPPF, and Stephanie Matthews, senior policy advisor with the Center for Education Freedom at TPPF, issued the following statements on the Texas Senate passage of House Bill 21, as amended, relating to establishment of an education savings accounts (ESAs) for children with special needs.  
          "Parents of special needs students can be grateful for this important step to secure the best educational option for their children," said Roberts. "In spite of the heroic effort of public school teachers, sometimes a special needs child will flourish in a different school. Congratulations to the legislators who recognize this fact, giving parents an additional tool for helping their kids."

          "Nothing is more important to the future of our state than education," said Matthews. "This bill opens doors to Texas students by providing more funding and empowering parents of the most vulnerable students with options. With this bill, parents of special needs students will have the ability to determine the best educational environment for their child."
Finally, we would like to thank Chairman Taylor for addressing the concerns we raised during our committee testimony about the price-tag.  Chairman Taylor cut over $1 BILLION from the fiscal note between the committee hearing and last night's floor vote.  This development can only help.

Bottom Line: With major school finance changes unlikely to cross the finish line this session, Chairman Taylor's efforts represent a quality starting point for future efforts.

#TXLEGE: Words, Actions, and Greg Abbott's priorities....


"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"
Isaiah 5:20

Words:
"As you know, I want to see the rate rollback part of property taxes achieved," Abbott told The Texas Tribune after a bill-signing event here at a church.
Actions:
Texas House and Senate budget negotiators agreed on a state budget for 2018-19 late Saturday — deciding to tap the state’s rainy day fund, a key sticking point — but not before Gov. Greg Abbott demanded they add $100 million to programs that are controlled by his office.

He clearly felt that he needed more in the area of his trusteed funds in order carry out some of the economic development,” Rep. John Zerwas, the House’s top budget writer, told reporters after the committee adjourned about 1 a.m. Sunday. “If we had had a little bit more of a heads-up, we might have been able to make the accommodations. But it works out fine.”

Daniel Hodge, Abbott’s chief of staff, said that the last-minute demands were not new. “What we asked for last night was what we had been asking for since January in new money,” he said Sunday. The committee added the money.

While Zerwas, R-Richmond, was characteristically diplomatic about the demand, other lawmakers showed their frustration. When the committee was getting ready to reconvene, Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, jokingly said: “Is this about more corporate welfare? Is that why we’re still here?” 
[Note: Have we seriously gotten to the point where Sarah Davis controls the moral high ground?!?

....

Abbott’s demands were delivered by Hodge and Steve Albright, the governor’s budget director. While they didn’t directly state that Abbott would veto the budget without more money for his office, “it was a clear indication to me that the governor would have a hard time signing off on a budget without that,” Zerwas said.

The money would go primarily to the Texas Enterprise Fund — which provides subsidies for companies considering moving to or expanding in Texas — and to incentive programs meant to lure filmmakers to Texas and to support the music industry.

Hodge said the governor’s office all along had made clear that Abbott was seeking a total of $110 million for economic incentive funds administered through his office — $60 million for the Texas Enterprise Fund, $40 million for the Governor’s University Research Initiative and $10 million for film and music incentives. The budget agreed to by the conference committee, before the governor’s office intervened, included only $10 million for the university program and no new money for the other incentives.

....

After the House and the Senate ignored the pre-K program for most of the legislative session, the conference committee directed $293 million for it, although the money came out of funding already earmarked for schools, not new funding.

[Note: Emphasis added.]
Well, this one...kinda speaks for itself.

With barely a week remaining in the current legislative session, Governor Abbott is paying lip service to structural property tax reform (as it festers) while attempting to move heaven and earth to push subsidies for the following groups:
  • Socialized education bureaucrats.
  • Leftist college professors.
  • Hollywood.
Bottom Line: Woe unto politicians who prioritize special privileges for socialized education bureaucrats, leftist college professors, and Hollywood over tax relief for vulnerable Texas homeowners.

#TXLEGE: Dennis Bonnen's UNACCEPTABLE Property Tax STUNT....


"But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God."
Nehemiah 5:15

LOL, nice try:
The Texas House on Saturday responded to Lt. Gov. Patrick's threat of forcing a special session by unanimously approving property tax legislation. But the lower chamber excluded the Senate's key provisions requiring voter approval of some tax rates — something Patrick wanted included.

Property tax changes and the so-called bathroom bill were the two items Patrick this week said needed to move by May 29 to prevent a special session. But it wasn't immediately clear Saturday afternoon if the lieutenant governor would accept a version of the property tax legislation that excluded the election provision many in the upper chamber considered vital. Conservative House members also wanted such language, but were unsuccessful in getting it added.

....

Under his proposal, local governments would have to announce a “no-new-revenue” tax rate each year and compare it to the rate they’re actually proposing. Taxpayers would get a copy of that and could intervene before the rates are finally set.

....

His committee stripped from the Senate version of the bill provisions that would require cities and counties to get voter approval for their property tax rates if revenues exceed 5 percent compared to what the entities collected the year before. The House's version leaves that "rollback" threshold at 8 percent — and only triggers an election if constituents successfully petition for a vote.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, asked Bonnen why his proposal doesn’t include automatic rollback elections. He said he would vote for Bonnen’s amendment, but wanted to know why it doesn’t go further. And he told the House that the Senate bill was the better option.

“This is a farce,” Stickland said. “This is part of a victory, part of a victory.”

He said he thought the automatic rollback election was essential to property tax reform.
The full interaction between Stickland and Bonnen:



Stickland subsequently elaborated:



From Empower Texans:
What lawmakers should have passed, but didn’t, was Senate Bill 2 by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), a major property tax reform bill that would force taxing entities to secure voter approval in order to increase property tax burdens by more than 5%. Should that election fail the rate would be “rolled back.”

Knowing that it will serve as a shield against property tax increases, SB 2 has been hailed by homeowners across the Lone Star State and has been many conservatives’ primary goal this legislative session.

Though the bill passed by a party-line vote of 20-11 in the Texas Senate, the measure was stopped in the Texas House after Speaker Joe Straus removed it from consideration by sustaining Democrats’ point of order on the bill and preventing conservatives from moving to overrule it.
Our two cents: The automatic rollback provisions are non-negotiable.  As we explained in March, they are the absolute bare minimum to an acceptable session on the property tax issue.  The whole point of property tax reform move taxing entities from a forgiveness based system to a permission based system.

Senator Bettencourt seems to concur:
“Without Senate Bill 2 as passed by the Senate being considered by the full House, there will be no property tax relief coming out of the 85th Regular Session,” said Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the author of SB 2. “Many of the items that the House voted on yesterday like SB 669, the committee substitute for SB 2, HB 15, and many other bills already existed as standalone bills in the Senate that have already been passed by the Texas Senate. While these are useful transparency and taxpayer tools, they are not property tax relief.”

If the House is to consider SB 2 in the 85th General Session, the House Calendars Committee will have to set the bill for today for a vote no later than second reading on Tuesday.

“Senate Bill 2 was based upon 50 hours of public testimony from taxpayers around the state that show multiple years of double digit increases in property tax bills on homes and businesses, with another year coming of strong value increases in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and on the IH35 corridor and in other jurisdictions around the state of Texas,” Senator Bettencourt stated. “If appraised values go up and tax rates don’t come down, then homeowners and business owners continue to be put at risk of ever-rising tax bills. This problem is not going away,” he added. “We should get a vote on rollback and automatic election provisions in the 85th Regular Session as Texas taxpayers are hoping we are not done yet.”
Bottom Line: We'll have to see what happens, but as things currently stand the property tax issue has NOT been satisfactorily resolved.

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Governor Greg Abbott: (512) 463-2000

Representative Dennis Bonnen: (512) 463-0564

Senator Paul Bettencourt: (512) 463-0107