Thursday, July 27, 2017

#TXLEGE: Straus mendacious as ever and NEVER going to change (without Gubernatorial intervention).....


"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,"
Hebrews 12:1

[UPDATE: According to Empower Texans, Workman withdrew the amendment voluntarily so Straus didn't have to rule it non-germane.  That's a separate hot mess (as is the fact that NO Freedom Caucus member advanced their own amendment to force the issue), but it's not lawlessness in the way we'd originally reported.  We've updated the post accordingly.]

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While we've had our suspicions about what would happen, to this point in the special session we've been content to let the process play out.  We knew the time would come when events would paint a clear picture.  That happened today.

HB 7 (Phelan) is a pathetic impersonation of the tree bill that Governor Abbott has requested from the legislature.  It was heard alongside the real tree bill in the urban affairs committee on Tuesday [Note: We signed in against but did not testify].  The difference between Phelan's bill and the real tree bill is that Phelan's was voted out while the real tree bill languishes in committee.

But here's the real kicker: This was a reprise of a bill that was vetoed by the Governor in June; as the Governor explained:
Senate Bill 744 appears to be a compromise bill that imposes a very minor restriction on some municipal tree ordinances. But in doing so, it gives the imprimatur of state law to the municipal micromanagement of private property, which should be abolished altogether. This bill was well-intentioned, but by the end of the legislative process it actually ended up doing more to protect cities than it did to protect the rights of property owners.
Obviously, the disrespect was deliberate.

But hope had yet to be lost; Paul Workman was planning to use a floor amendment to attach the real tree bill to Phelan's shell bill.

Then Workman inexplicably withdrew his amendment.  And the House members did nothing.  And NO Freedom Caucus member offered their own amendment to force the issue.  Ultimately, 132 members (including five from the Freedom caucus) voted to pass Phelan's bill without any amendments.
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So, where do we go from here?!?

Honestly...it's up to Abbott.  It's his agenda that's on the line.  And he's the one who was explicitly dissed today.

If Abbott gets actively involved, plenty of time remains to go 20 for 20.

If Abbott doesn't get actively involved, according to Capitol sources, Straus only intends to move: the less important pro-life items (note: looks good on a campaign mailer), annexation (note: being from San Antonio, Straus personally needs this), something related to school finance (note: he'll push for the Huberty bill then settle for an interim study) and maternal mortality.

Absent Abbott's involvement, everything else is dead in the House.

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Governor Greg Abbott: (512) 463-2000

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

#TXLEGE: Will House dithering force Abbott to call a SECOND Special Session?!?


"For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind."
Ecclesiastes 2:26

We've certainly had our issues with Governor Abbott this legislative session.  But, to his credit, Governor Abbott has shown significantly improved leadership during the special session.  Since the special session was called, we've generally been content with what we've seen.

Furthermore, the Senate has now passed the full special session agenda:



Meanwhile, in the house, we've seen...not much of anything.

We've had a few committee hearings, but none of the Governor's bills have yet to be voted out, and we're almost 30% of the way through the current special session.

House floor sessions have lasted about fifteen minutes each day.  They've passed one sunset bill...and that's it.  Tomorrow will be the first day with a real calendar, and only one of those bills implements one of the Governor's priorities.

[Note: Conceivably, one of the other bills up tomorrow could conceivably be amended on the floor into an acceptable version of the tree bill.]

The clock is ticking.

On the one hand, it would be a shame if the house's inaction forced the Governor to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for another special session.

On the other hand, another special session would present a golden opportunity to revisit Constitutional Carry (not to mention short-term rentals and historical zoning).

So we'll see; there are any number of grassroots priorities that should not have to wait until 2019, but we've also got fall plans that we'd prefer to not have to break to hang out at the Capitol.

Bottom Line: If the Governor's priorities start seeing significant floor action by Monday and Tuesday of next week, a second special session is still avoidable; otherwise, don't make fall plans....

#TXLEGE: Lyle Larson's cute little "Water" stunt....


"They are deeply corrupted,
As in the days of Gibeah.
He will remember their iniquity;
He will punish their sins."
Hosea 9:9

Well, at least some bills are moving in the house.

As part of house leadership's extended middle finger to Governor Abbott's special session agenda, today house natural resources committee chairman Lyle Larson heard several of his own bills related to water that Governor Abbott vetoed following the regular session.  Then the committee voted all of them out.  You read that correctly: Larson heard and voted out several bills that the Governor just vetoed; the embedded disrespect is deliberate.

When discussing water policy in Texas, it's important to remember that the whole thing is a corrupt bureaucratic morass.  Disgraced former state representative Jim Keffer was a master at this (see more here and here).  While we've never confirmed it, we've also heard rumors over the years that Larson and Todd Hunter have business interests related to water infrastructure...which makes the fact that a major desalination project in Hunter's district just secured funding last week all the more interesting.

As to the bills themselves, a couple of them (HB 26, HB 228) might have a certain amount of value on the merits.  But this is not the appropriate venue to discuss them.  According to a comment from Trent Ashby during the hearing, the house will probably attempt to push them through creative interpretation of the expedited permitting and the property rights sections of the special session charge [Note: They're probably on solid ground with a couple and nowhere near it on the rest].

In addition, the committee heard testimony on the water development slush fund they passed in 2013 (which, unfortunately, the voters subsequently ratified).  Apparently, they've issued a few billion in various forms over the past couple of years (mostly with multi-decade maturities), are planning to issue another $5.6 billion before 2025, and yet somehow still have almost all of the original $2 billion they were originally allocated in the bank.  Don't ask us how that math works.


Larson closed the hearing with an soliloquy about how "Texas will rue the day" it failed to spend a lot of money on water infrastructure when the next big drought hits.  On the one hand, we're all for prudent planning (and made the point several years ago that if Texas is serious about "infrastructure investment" there were other parts of the budget where they could find the money).  On the other hand, we've learned from experience that when politicians start screaming at the top of their lungs they frequently have something to hide.

Bottom Line: On a certain level, we're impressed by the chutzpah.

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Note: That being said, there was one slide shown during the hearing that highlights the biggest problem with water policy in of Texas:


Agriculture consumes over 60% of the water in this state despite the fact that a tiny fraction of the population works in the industry, while all municipal use (ie. residential and commercial) is only 27%.

In other words: STOP GROWING COTTON IN THE PANHANDLE!!!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

#TXLEGE: First major #SpecialSession day of House committee hearings.....


"Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy!
For You shall judge the people righteously,
And govern the nations on earth. Selah"
Psalm 67:4

[Note: We'll post links to the videos as they become available.]

The House had its first major day of committee hearings today.  We signed up to testify on seven bills and deliverd that testimony on four.  Bills we support will be listed in green, bills about which we are neutral will be listed in yellow, and bills we oppose will be listed in red.
  • HB 70 (Workman): "Relating to a property owner's right to remove a tree or vegetation."

    We testified in favor of the House version of the tree bill in the Urban Affairs committee.  We echoed the property rights related arguments you've seen delivered elsewhere.  We also pointed out that trees usually add value to a property, which means that property owners rarely want to cut them down, but in the cases where it's necessary they shouldn't have to wade through a cumbersome process to do so.

    But, let's be honest: This is not the first time this author has testified in front of the Urban Affairs committee this session.  We testified in favor of two separate property rights related bills in this committee during the regular session, and the Democrat committee chair refused to vote either one out of committee.  As chair of the urban affairs committee, Carol Alvarado has a bad recent record on moving property rights related bills.
  • HB 71 (Bohac): "Relating to the limitation on increases in the appraised value of a residence homestead for ad valorem taxation."

    We testified in favor of this bill in the Ways and Means committee.  To be honest, we were pleasantly surprised that Dennis Bonnen chose to give it a hearing.  It's well within the bounds of the special session call.

    The short version of why we support this bill is because there's two places to reign in the property tax system: the appraisal and the rate; while we fully support the discussion related to tax rates that's been generating more attention, we'd also love to do something about the appraisal system.
  • HB 124 (GREG Bonnen): "Relating to the date for ordering or holding an election to ratify the ad valorem tax rate of a school district."

    We signed up to testify on this bill in Ways and Means but were out of the room when our name was called.

    This bill would require tax ratification elections for school districts to be held alongside November general elections; this would make it harder for school districts to game the system by calling tax ratification elections at strange time where only district employees show up to vote.
  • HJR 18 (Howard): "Proposing a constitutional amendment requiring the state to pay at least 50 percent of the cost of maintaining and operating the public school system and prohibiting the comptroller from certifying legislation containing an appropriation unless the requirement is met."

    We testified neutrally on this bill in the Appropriations committee.

    As we explained in our testimony in the school finance testimony yesterday, we don't think it's entirely crazy to say that the state should pick up a greater share of the education tab.  But, for that deal to make sense, the additional state funding needs to be accompanied by some form of structural reform to the system or dollar for dollar reductions in local property taxes (preferably both).  But the house seems to really, really want to do a school finance package and we want to make clear what we would need to see to become interested.
  • HB 80 (Darby):  "Relating to a cost-of-living adjustment applicable to certain benefits paid by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas."

    We were out of the room when we were called to testify on this bill in Appropriation but we oppose it because it pours more money into the current broken system without any reform.

    Appropriations also considered multiple bills related to raiding the rainy day fund to pay for teacher health care, which would be a terrible idea.
  • HB 3 (Dennis Bonnen): "Relating to ad valorem taxation; authorizing fees."

    This is the property tax transparency bill Bonnen started pushing late in the regular session when the he was unable to get the automatic rollback election bill out of his committee.  We testified in favor of the bill as an improvement over current law.  But we also made it clear that we did not consider this bill sufficient to call the 85th legislative session successful on property taxes.

    This led to a moderately contentious exchange with Bonnen about the relative merits of transparency vs. automatic rollbacks.  Bonnen attempted to argue that we were saying that we'd be fine with taxing entities raising taxes just up to the limit into perpetuity.  We pointed out to the chairman that moving from a forgiveness based system to a permission based system was the biggest thing anyone was discussing at the moment.

    Another fun fact we realized after discussion of this bill: Mayor Adler also testified in favor of this bill; while this isn't the first time Mayor Adler and this author have agreed on an issue, the fact that he's supporting it should tell you everything you need to know about the practical effect it will have.
  • HB 4 (Dennis Bonnen): "Relating to the calculation of the ad valorem rollback tax rate of a taxing unit and voter approval of a proposed tax rate that exceeds the rollback tax rate."

    We had to leave before Bonnen called us to testify, but considering we'd had a sharp exchange of views during the previous bill he knows why this authors supports this bill.

    That being said, the most notable aspect of the testimony on this bill was that the local officials all showed up and lost their minds in opposition to this bill; had we been able to stick around, we would have pointed out to the chair that those people being that upset should tell you everything you need to know about which of his two bills would have had a greater impact.

    It's also worth pointing out that Drew Springer and even one of the Democrats on the committee grew visibly exasperated with some of the disingenuous claims made by the local officials; we'll see what that means for getting this bill out of committee.
Bottom Line: We'll know how quickly these bills are moving in a couple days.

Monday, July 24, 2017

#TXLEGE: Huberty LYING about School Finance and Property Tax Relief....


"They speak idly everyone with his neighbor;
With flattering lips and a double heart they speak."
Psalm 12:2

[Note: The committee hearing can be viewed here; our testimony can be viewed at the 1 hour 20 minute mark.]

We attended this afternoon's house Public Education committee and testified against Dan Huberty's terrible school finance bill.  This is a substantively similar bill to the bad policy wrapped in a sleazy process bill Huberty pursued during the regular session.  We suppose it's to Huberty's mild credit that at least he's no longer shadily attempting to push it under the radar while the public is focused on other issues.

But the fundamental problem about the bill hasn't changed: It pours a lot of money into the bureaucracy without structurally reforming the system or providing relief to taxpayers.

And, when Huberty attempts to portray this bill as a property tax relief bill, he's telling a bald-faced lie.

In theory, the legislature could write a school finance bill that included property tax relief.  It could be accomplished through a mechanism called a rate compression."  Huberty's bill doesn't have a rate compression.

Furthermore, the argument that some members of the house have made about the state picking up a bigger percentage of the tab for education spending isn't entirely crazy.  We say that primarily because the state collects revenue through sales taxes while local school districts levy property taxes.  But any increase in state expenditures needs to be met with a corresponding decrease in local expenditures and Huberty's bill doesn't do that.

For this website to get to a yes on a school finance bill, we would need to see either structural reforms so the system better serves children or meaningful property tax relief; Huberty's bill does neither.

Bottom Line: This is not a tax relief bill.  This is a spending bill.  And every time Dan Huberty tries to claim otherwise, he's lying.

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Another interesting note about house leadership's priorities during the special session is that THIS bill also got a hearing today:
HB 197        Bernal                  
Relating to the bilingual education allotment provided under the public school finance system.
Bilingual education is a horrible idea that harms the people it claims to help and Dan Huberty heard a bill to put more money into it this afternoon.  Furthermore, during consideration of Bernal's bill, Huberty said that he had integrated its principles into his own school finance bill.  This is happening.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

#TXLEGE: Wrapping up Senate Testimony w/ Union dues and Annexation.....


"And the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said:

“Stand up and bless the Lord your God
Forever and ever!
“Blessed be Your glorious name,
Which is exalted above all blessing and praise!"
Nehemiah 9:5

[Note: The B&C hearing can be viewed here (our testimony is approximately an hour in); the State Affairs hearing can be viewed here (our testimony is approximately three hours in).]

We testified in favor of two more bills today.  We got hissed at during the first.  During the second, we got a standing ovation.

  • SB 7 (Hughes) "Relating to payroll deductions for state and local government employee organizations."

    We testified about how taxpayers shouldn't be forced to subsidize partisan political activity.  Government bureaucrats are free to engage in any political they desire on their own time and their own dime.  But taxpayers shouldn't be asked to subsidize it.

    We also pointed out the need for a level playing field, so organizations (like the Texas Public Policy Foundation) that rely upon voluntary contributions aren't forced to compete at a structural disadvantage; several of the union people audibly expressed their displeasure with the TPPF comparison.
  • SB 6 (Campbell): "Relating to municipal annexation."

    We testified about how involuntary annexation wasn't cool when the Germans did it to France, it wasn't cool when the Soviets did it to half of Europe, and it's not cool today when the cities of Austin, Houston, and San Antonio are doing it in the state of Texas.

    That was the line that earned the standing ovation.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

#TXLEGE: Statements about several of today's bills....

Image result for texas senate


"Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy!
For You shall judge the people righteously,
And govern the nations on earth. Selah"
Psalm 67:4

[Note: The business and commerce committee hearing can be viewed here; our testimony on the health insurance bill can be viewed around the 1 hour 15 minute mark, our testimony on the not changing permitting rules in the middle of the game bill can be found around three hours.]

We signed up to testify on six separate bills today at the Capitol.  We were only able to deliver that testimony on two.  On the final four bills, our remarks are the testimony we would have given if we'd been able to stick around."
  • SB 8 (Creighton): "Relating to health plan and health benefit plan coverage for elective abortion."

    We testified that, similar to the local defunding bill from yesterday,  so long as our society is going to permit the slaughter of innocent children, they ought to at least not ask the rest of us to pay for it.

    That being said, we also realized later that eliminating abortion coverage from basic health insurance can only lower premiums.
  • SB 12 (Buckingham): "Relating to limiting the applicability of municipal and county regulations affecting real property." [Note: This is the bill that would prohibit cities from changing the rules for construction projects in the middle of the game.]

    One of the taxpayer-funded municipal propagandists used the phrase "using zoning to protect property values" and we found that an astonishing euphemism for using the coercive power of the state to artificially restrict housing supply.

    Furthermore, we pointed out that housing costs are the biggest expense for the overwhelming majority of families nationally, in Texas, and here in Austin.  When abusive municipal governments, starting with but not limited to the city of Austin, change the rules in the middle of the game it drives up those housing costs.  This is terrible for upward economic mobility.
  • SB 13 (Burton): "Relating to the issuance of a permit by a political subdivision."  [Note: This bill would establish firm deadlines for cities and counties to deny building permits.  Unless the political subdivision actively denies the permit, it is considered automatically granted after a certain period of time.  Also prohibits county and municipal governments from mandating wage rates.]

    Everything aspect of this bill is awesome.
  • SB 14 (Hall): "Relating to a property owner's right to remove a tree or vegetation." [Note: This is the tree bill.]

    This bill has received a surprising amount of national attention, so there's not a lot that we have to add.  The property rights aspect of this discussion is obvious.  The only thing we would add is that the local politically entrenched disingenuous NIMBY crowd loves to use the tree ordinance as an excuse to delay construction and that anything that reigns in those people can only be a good thing.
  • SB 1 (Bettencourt): "Relating to ad valorem taxation."

    There's been a lot of ink spilled over property taxes, to which we will simply add that the current property tax system is an obvious macroeconomic storm brewing on the medium-term horizon and that it's one of the few things that could truly take down the Texas economy (local government debt is the other).

    Furthermore, lowering the property tax cap would benefit renters alongside homeowners.  Renters (even if they don't realize it) pay property taxes through their rent.  Unfortunately, renters don't receive homestead exemptions.
  • SB 18 (Estes): "Relating to a limit on local government expenditures."

    The flip side to clamping down on taxes is that you need to clamp down on spending as well and this bill does that.

    Furthermore, if you're serious about eliminating property taxes, making cities and counties live under spending caps  starts to make that a realistically viable option in four or six years down the line.

Friday, July 21, 2017

#TXLEGE: Thoughts about today's Senate Education hearing....


"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction."
Proverbs 1:7

[Note: The hearing can be viewed here; our testimony on the school choice bill can be found around the one hour mark.]

The Texas Senate education committee is currently hearing two bills.  The first relates to parental choice and the second to school finance.  We testified "on" the former, and were signed up to testify "on" the latter but had to leave.

The most important item people need to understand about the current incarnation of the parental choice bill is that IT'S COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM THE BILL THAT WAS CONSIDERED DURING THE REGULAR SESSION.  SB 2, by Larry Taylor, would create "tax credit scholarships" for special needs students whereby outside parties can receive a state tax deduction for donating to certain scholarship funds.  This is a significantly more complicated mechanism that what was discussed during the regular session.  By contrast, during the regular session, the Senate proposed "education savings accounts" which would have taken money currently going into the bureaucracy and given it instead to parents to spend however they see fit.

We testified that we don't like that the Senate has shifted course between the regular and special sessions.  Furthermore, we worry that creating new tax credits conflicts with other long term goals related to tax simplification.  Senator Bettencourt largely agreed but asked us if we'd accept tax credit scholarships as a starting point, to which we have to say it depends on how they're structured.

Beyond that, we will note that we were impressed by an exchange Senator Campbell had with a rural superintendent.  When the superintendent attempted to claim no one in his organization supported increased parental choice, Campbell asked his whether his organization represented parents or superintendents.  Under questioning, the superintendent admitted his organization only represented the latter.

On school finance we were unable to testify, but we would have re-emphasized the point we made yesterday: IN THE EVENT THAT THE HOUSE AND SENATE REACH AN AGREEMENT ON SCHOOL FINANCE (which, to be honest, we don't think is going to happen), WE WANT IT TO BE POSTED FOR AT LEAST 72 HOURS BEFORE IT'S VOTED UPON IN EITHER CHAMBER.  In other words, we want to read the bill first.  But again, we think it's unlikely that the house and senate reach an agreement which would render the above paragraph moot.

That being said, depending on the details, the following broad principles could get this author to a 'yes' on a major school finance bill:
  • Significant movement toward student centered funding from district (ie. bureaucrat) centered funding.
    • Note: We think that's DOA in the house.
  • Significant Property Tax relief: To have the state pick up a greater share of the education tab might be a conversation worth having.  But any increase in state level funding must be offset by a decrease in local property taxes.  HB 21 from the regular session, in the form it passed the house, did not accomplish this objective.
  • Repurposing existing dollars from the bureaucracy into the classroom; the Governor and the Senate have said a lot of good things on this topic recently, but those provisions need to have teeth.
Bottom Line: We're currently neutral on both of these bills and we can plausibly see ourselves breaking either way.

#TXLEGE: Roundup from today's pro-Life hearing....


“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1:5

[Note: The hearing can be view here; our testimony on the DNR bill can be views around the 3 hour 20 minute mark, our testimony on the local defunding bill is a smidge before the 5 hour mark.]

This morning, the Texas Senate committee on Health and Human services committee heard bills on four distinct pro-life related topics.  This website supports all four.  However, we specifically testified in favor of abolishing involuntary Do-Not-Resuscitate orders and in favor of eliminating all local government subsidies to abortion providers.

SB 11, by Charles Perry, would prohibit hospitals from placing a DNR order on a patient without their consent (or, in certain circumstances, the consent of the person with medical power of attorney).  Did you know that's currently legal in Texas for hospitals to do?!?  Well, it is....

We testified that we find it astonishing that this practice is even legal in the first place.  Furthermore, it's a symptom of the erosion of patient rights alongside the enlargement of bureaucrats that's currently taking medicine in really creepy direction.  Finally, we discussed how the recent Charlie Gard case in the UK illustrates the urgency of this issue.

SB 4, by Charles Schwernter, would prohibit abortion providers from receiving taxpayer funding from local governments.  Emily Horne, of Texas Right to Life, gave detailed testimony about the various offenses from cities, counties, and hospital districts around the state.  Horne furthermore explained that a statewide prohibition was the only way to end the cycle of local whack-a-mole.

We testified about how, as a resident of Austin and Travis County, we're offended that our tax dollars go to subsidize this brutal, gruesome, barbaric process.

The committee voted everything out at the end of the hearing; the bills succeeded along party lines.

Bottom Line: All of the Senate's pro-life bills are out of committee, they'll probably be on the floor early next week.

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DAMN RIGHT:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

#TXLEGE: Abbott tosses Democrats a crumb to prevent quorum bust....


"In measure, by sending it away,
You contended with it.
He removes it by His rough wind
In the day of the east wind."
Isaiah 27:8

Governor Abbott has officially expanded the call...with a curve ball:
Texas legislators could end up passing bills to reform the state's school finance system and help out retired teachers this special session.

After the Senate voted early Thursday morning to pass a bill keeping several key state agencies alive, Gov. Greg Abbott immediately expanded the special session agenda by adding 19 items — and dramatically expanded the focus of two education-related priorities he had announced last month.

When Abbott announced his call for the special session in June, he said he would ask legislators to increase teacher pay by $1,000, and to establish a commission to recommend improvements to the beleaguered school finance system. The expanded call Thursday would allow legislators to pass bills improving a state-run health care plan for retired teachers and making major reforms to the school finance system, including the extension of a state aid program that would help mostly small, rural school districts.
Translation: Busting quorum is no longer a politically viable action for the Democrats.  If they were to bust quorum with school finance and TRS-care on the call, their base in the socialized education industrial complex would (justifiably) go bonkers.  Abbott knows this.

As to the substance of the issue...it's too early to tell.  In terms of broad philosophical alignment, we're favorably inclined to where the Lt. Governor and Larry Taylor want to go.  But on big, complicated, topics like school finance and TRS-care the devil will always be in the details.  Personally, we had planned on using the special session to move the philosophical discussion in the right direction while sweating those details closer to next session.  But the Governor's action changes that calculation.  Those details now matter a lot more.  We'll leave it at this: assuming, for the sake of discussion, that the house and senate are able to reach an agreement among themselves (*)...we want any 'compromise' bill that emerges from that process to be posted for at least 72 hours before it is voted upon in either chamber so that people (ie. this author) have a chance to read it.

Bottom Line: Theoretically, if a lot of conditions are met, we'd be willing to pass major school finance and TRS-care bills during the current special session.  But abstract theory and practical application are not the same thing.  And we will caution all interested parties that, if we can beat Warren Buffett, we can kill a school finance bill.

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* -- Note: That's an AWFULLY big assumption.  We suspect that the philosophical divide between the two chambers is too wide to bridge given the current roster of each.  Thus we don't think there will be any major changes to school finance prior to both the primary and general elections in 2018 (but we could be wrong).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

#TXLEGE: Early #SpecialSession Battle Lines Drawn


"A whip for the horse,
A bridle for the donkey,
And a rod for the fool’s back."
Proverbs 26:3

We attended this morning's trib event with Carol Alvarado, Drew Darby, and Matt Schaefer; the TL,DR version is that Alvarado was crankier than usual, Darby doubled down on support for Straus (while explicitly coming out against property tax reform), and Shaefer thrived in the face of a withering assault from Alvarado and the audience.




Highlights:

  • Schaefer: Call items = "conservative home run."
  • Alvarado calls Schaefer "obsessed" with protecting life.
    • Note: Guilty as charged.
  • Darby: Straus "not a hands on speaker."
    • Note: Bullshit.
    • "If we [the house members] don't want a bill to move, it's not going to move."
  • Alvarado endorses Straus' "school finance is the only way to lower property taxes" nonsense.
    • More Accurate Headline: Democrat echoes Straus' position on property taxes.
  • Alvarado calls the rule of law "anti-freedom."
  • Darby compares Abbott holding legislators accountable to parents threatening children during Christmas.
    • "I object."
  • Alvarado: "I'm going to be holding hearings on substantive issues" in Urban affairs.
  • Alvarado: Revenue caps in Houston haven't worked.
    • Note: LOL
  • Darby: "The House's position on these issues hasn't changed."
    • "I am not going to change my position."
  • Schaefer: "There was a slowness to the work of the House" during the regular session.
  • Alvarado calls teacher pay increase "unfair to local school districts."
    • Endorses raiding Rainy Day fund as alternative.
  • Darby throws privacy act under the bus.
  • Alvarado keeps door open on busting quorum.
  • Darby, in response to question from this author: "I'm opposed to any lowering of the rollback rate" on property taxes.
    • Note: We worded our question to Darby about property taxes very specifically see if he would pivot to discussing his property tax bills as an alternative to changing the rollback formula.  He did not.  Thus, it seems unlikely that Darby any intention of pursuing those bills and merely filed them as election season CYA.
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Representative Drew Darby: (512) 463-0331

#TXLEGE: Freedom Caucus DOMINATES Early House Fundraising!!!


"Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished,
But he who gathers by labor will increase."
Proverbs 13:11

We obviously know about the Governor and Lt. Governor's fundraising, but did you know that 7 out of the top ten fundraisers on the House side are Freedom caucus members?!?



While we're on the subject, among challengers Thomas McNutt (running against Byron Cook) raised over $320k and has $250k cash on hand; Mayes Middleton (running against Wayne Faircloth) has $480k cash on hand and has over 100 individual donors including former good UT regent Alex Cranberg!

Bottom Line: This tells you everything you need to know about where the energy and momentum lie.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

#TXLEGE: Observations from #SpecialSession Day 1


And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the Lord;
We have waited for Him;
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
Isaiah 25:9

Obviously, today was day 1 of the legislature's special session.  The TL,DR version is that there are currently a lot of moving parts and we should know a lot more Thursday.  Nevertheless, some observations:
  • Senate moves promptly on Sunset -- Shortly after they gavelled in, the Senate went into recess and held a committee hearing on the sunset bill  They're widely expected to vote the sunset bill out of the chamber tomorrow.  Expect Governor Abbott to formally amend the call to include the 19 other items tomorrow afternoon or early Thursday.

    Bud Kennedy outside the Senate chamber.
  • Senate committee hearings on non-sunset items likely to start Thursday, get into full swing Friday...but that schedule is not set in stone.
  • Straus refers sunset bill to Byron Cook's committee (Committee hearing tomorrow) -- LOL, don't ever change Joe....

  • We chatted with a Texas Observer reporter about the pro-life bills -- We'll see what (or even if) they publish.  We explained that it's abhorrent to ask people to subsidize tearing up babies in their mama's womb either through local taxes or their health insurance.  We also explained how the Charlie Gard case in the UK creates a new sense of urgency on the DNR bill.



  • But at least the commies showed up!!!

Monday, July 17, 2017

#TXLEGE: Today's TPPF #SpecialSession Policy Orientation


"Prepare yourself and be ready, you and all your companies that are gathered about you; and be a guard for them."
Ezekiel 38:7

TPPF hosted a supplemental policy orientation today with a mix of speakers and panels; the following is a direct transcription of our notes.

Governor Greg Abbott:
  • Teachers are the most important part of the education process.
  • Reward the best teachers.
  • School finance -- What has been studied previously is not adequate.
    • No more "band aids over band aids."
    • End Robin Hood.
  • Current education structure focuses on "schools, not students."
  • Cities have enacted policies that are hostile to economic growth.
    • "If we don't stop this, real quick, we are in real danger."
  • Taxpayers should have a say in tax increases.
    • #1 issue we must address.
  • Private property rights are being diminished across Texas.
  • "I want a vote" on union dues bill.
  • Dallas mail in ballot fraud nothing new.
    • Been going on since (at least) Lyndon Johnson.
    • Removing paid political operatives from the process.
  • Publishing lists of special session items re: who's supporting/who's not "on a daily basis."

Lt. Gov Dan Patrick:
  • Points out Straus laying foundation for state income tax in the first paragraph.
    • Along with Democrats and school district officials.
  • 52% of budget goes to education.
  • Teachers only get 32% of education $$$.
  • "It's not an unfunded mandate...school districts need to re-purpose the money."
  • Teachers unions oppose higher pay for teachers.
  • Math is math.
  • "Governor Abbott and I do not want Texas to become California or Illinois."
  • "Greg Abbott's priorities are my priorities."
  • Property taxes #1 priority.
  • House has lots of members who will vote the right way "if they get the chance."
  • "Texas likes fighters, not quitters."
  • "We've shown that big government Republicans are wrong."
  • re: Straus: "Don't undermine the entire party and the entire state."
From Left: Talmadge Heflin (TPPF), Sen. Kelly Hancock, Rep. Craig Goldman, Sen. Bryan Hughes, Patrick Gleason (ATR)

State level fiscal policy panel:
  • Statewide spending limits needs to go down to (population + inflation).
  • Hancock: Abbott created conference committees before the bills were even filed.
  • Public sector unions are bankrupting California.
  • Hancock: Spending is where you control the growth of government.
    • (Population + inflation) is a real cap.
    • Note: As this session's budget can attest, (population + inflation) is more of a bare minimum than a real cap...but it would still be a significant improvement on the status quo.
  • Gleason: It's easier to pass things in other states when Texas has done it.
  • Gleason: Kansas cut taxes, but failed to keep spending in check.
From Left: Sen. Donna Campbell, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, Rep. Paul Workman
Local Liberty Panel:
  • Cities are doing power grabs to increase their tax base.
  • Annexation: Cities have been unrestrained for decades.
    • Campbell's bill expedites voluntary annexation.
    • Texas is one of the last states in the country to permit voluntary annexation.
  • Property Taxes: Revenue up >30% in all the major counties over the past few years.
    • Anywhere you go in the state, appraisals are up at least 15% annually.
    • School districts have to hold tax ratification elections past a certain threshold; you need a similar mechanism for cities and counties.
    • Current rollback petition requirements "are fictitious nonsense."
    • Rollback rates have been >5% since Jimmy Carter.
    • Bettencourt supports 0% rollback rate but doesn't currently have the votes.
    • Texas currently chasing New York and Illinois on property tax burdens.
  • Tree Bill: Heritage trees add value to property, so cutting them down is rare, but in the cases where it's necessary it's none of the government's business.
    • Westlake tried to fine a property owner $100k for cutting down a tree on his own property.
  • Expedited Permitting: Workman's bill states that cities can have expedited permitting, but doesn't allow them to add strings to the process.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

#TXLEGE: Business as usual under Joe Straus....



"He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck,
Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
Proverbs 29:1

Texans for Public Justice is a very far left outfit that claims to be a public interest watchdog organization, but usually puts out politically motivated hatchet jobs on conservative members of state government.  For example, they were the original driving force behind the politically motivated prosecutions of Rick Perry and Ken Paxton.  But, much like a stopped clock being right twice a day, this recent report on the lobby activity by Straus committee chairs who left after last session is spot on:


Friday, July 14, 2017

#TXLEGE: Wrapping up our testimonies from the 85th Regular Session....


"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
John 8:32

[Note: A very big, public, THANK YOU to Buddy Kipp of Empower Texans for pulling the video from the legislature's website.]

We've finally gotten our legislative testimonies from the regular session online; presented in chronological order.
  • 3/14/2017 -- SB 113: "Relating to the provision of and local regulation of certain for-hire passenger transportation." [Note: This was Don Huffines version of the Uber bill that would have completely deregulated ALL ground transportation.] (Original Post)

  • 3/14/2017 -- SB 451: "Relating to regulation of short-term rentals and short-term rental marketplaces by municipalities and counties."

  • 3/23/2017 -- SB 19: "Relating to performance-based tuition limitations for and a temporary limitation on the amount of tuition and fees charged by certain public institutions of higher education. (Original Post)

  • 3/27/2017 -- SB 445: "Relating to the authorization and reporting of expenditures for lobbying activities by certain political subdivisions and other public entities." (Original Post)

  • 4/11/2017 -- HB 3418: "Relating to municipal zoning affecting places or areas of historical, cultural, or architectural importance and significance." (Original Post)

  • 4/18/2017 -- HB 2551: "Relating to regulation of short-term rentals by municipalities and counties." (Original Post)

  • 4/26/2017 -- SB 1151: "Relating to the protection of expressive activities at public institutions of higher education." (Original Post)

  • 5/11/2017 -- HB 100: "Relating to the regulation of transportation network companies; requiring an occupational permit; authorizing a fee." (Original Post)

  • 5/11/2017 -- CSHB 21: "Relating to the funding of primary and secondary education." (Original Post)

  • 5/15/2017 -- HB 17: "Relating to the establishment of the Texas Higher Education Innovation Accelerator for public institutions of higher education." (Original Post)

  • 5/17/2017 -- SB 822: "Relating to the transfer of certain property from The University of Texas System to the Parks and Wildlife Department." (Original Post)

  • 5/17/2017 -- SB 19: "Relating to performance-based tuition limitations for and a temporary limitation on the amount of tuition and fees charged by certain public institutions of higher education." (Original Post)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

#TXLEGE: Patrick's Press Conference


"These are the things you shall do:
Speak each man the truth to his neighbor;
Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace;"
Zechariah 8:16

[Note: The Trib's facebook page was the only place we were able to find the video in an embedable format; following some introductory commentary from one of their reporters, the Lt. Gov's remarks start at the 15:00 minute mark of the video.]

Lt. Gov. Patrick held a press conference this afternoon to discuss the special session and unveil the Senate's school finance plan:



Highlights:

  • "I support all 20 bills that the Governor has put on the call for the special session that begins next week.  I've got my 20 for 20 pin on...I've noticed a lot of House members wearing it as well.  We've already passed 10 of those out of the Senate; they were killed by the speaker and that's why they're back on the call."
  • "During the [regular] session we passed 30 of 30 of our priority bills and I intend to pass 20 of 20 of the Governor's priorities."
    • "Clearly, the people support this legislation."
  • "The Senate will hit the ground running next week, and as always we will be efficient and get the work done."
  • "I believe the House can pass 20 for 20 as well...if they ever get a chance to vote for them on the floor."
  • "A bold and serious plan to increase teacher pay."
  • "Teachers are the most important part of a child's education; we must make every effort to compensate them for the work that they do."
  • "Laying out a plan to end recapture."
    • aka. Robin Hood.
  • "This is a serious plan, which is different from what the speaker laid out during the regular session and continues to talk about; THAT WAS NOTHING MORE THAN AN EDUCATION PONZI SCHEME."
    • Note: OUCH!!!
  • "The speaker's school finance plan took $1.5 BILLION from the foundation schools plan; it would have delayed paying school districts one month to give them the same money."
  • "There was no funding in the speaker's finance plan; it was a ponzi scheme."
  • Straus' regular session education funding shell game "was a dangerous political stunt."
  • Property tax reform "needs to pass."
  • "Where do you get billions more for education?!?  The only way to do it is a state income tax."
  • "I will not join the speaker in laying the groundwork for a state income tax."
  • "Let's stop talking about billions of dollars coming out of nowhere."
  • "Just throwing billions at [education] won't make a difference, and I'm offended to see anyone try to use public education as a political tool and a political stunt, promising to throw billions at it without a plan and not telling people where the money's coming from."
  • "We spend 52% of all the money we have [in the state budget] on education."
    • K-12 = 38%
  • "There is no more money, Mr. Speaker."
    • "We're not hiding $1.5 billion under the Sam Houston mattress in the Governor's mansion."
  • "At the local level, and at the state level, [education] is our priority."
  • "Every agency always wants more, but we are not underfunding education, it's over half of our budget."
  • Since 2000, education spending up 108% while enrollment is only up 32%
    • "Teacher pay has only gone up 35%."
  • "Where's all the money going?!?"
  • "Teachers are the key.  Buildings don't educate students.  Expensive stadiums don't help teachers to help kids to read or solve math problems."
  • We spend $163k per classroom on average while teachers get 52k.
  • Less than 32% of the education budget goes to teachers.
  • If you redirected 5% of the money that's going into the bureaucracy you could give teachers an $8000 raise.
  • Longevity bonuses for teachers coming from the state.
  • Retired teachers with 20 years + experience will get $600/month longevity bonus.
  • $200 million for TRS.
  • How do you pay for this?!?
    • We need to direct that money.
    • In the short term, make a deferral from a managed care fund.
    • In the long term, pass a constitutional amendment to dedicate funding for teachers from the lottery funding that's already dedicated to education.
      • "We're just directing the money to teachers, because [school districts] aren't."
  • Robin Hood: Never more than $1.5 billion per budget cycle.
    • 1% in savings across the state budget can cover the Robin Hood payments.
  • Nelson and Larry Taylor carrying the bills.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

#TXLEGE: #PassThemAll -- Abbott adopts Empower Texans messaging....


"And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise."
Luke 6:31

A month ago, in relation to the special session, Empower Texans challenged the legislature to pass every item on the agenda:
Texans should stand alongside Abbott in petitioning legislators with a simple message: Pass Them All. Don’t get trapped into ranking the agenda items, or prioritizing them. Don’t be tempted by the cronies to bid against yourself and your fellow citizens. Tell the legislators that Abbott has given them 30 days to pass less than two dozen measures widely supported by Texans. Pass them all.
And look who's now tweeting under the hashtag #PassThemAll:


Bottom Line: Never, ever, ever forget that Greg Abbott is the most diligent politician in the business...and that EVERYTHING he does is deliberate.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

#TXLEGE: A tale of two presiding officers....


"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
But when a wicked man rules, the people groan."
Proverbs 29:2

Dan Patrick's Monday:



Joe Straus' Monday:
Last night, with just over a week until a special session is set to begin for the Texas legislature, the Republican Party of Bexar County [Note: Straus' home county] voted for a resolution encouraging new leadership in the Texas House. According to the resolution, which passed 36-28, it was due to the lack of support for the Republican Party of Texas platform.
Bottom Line: The contrast between what happened to each of them yesterday speaks for itself.

#TXLEGE: Numerous Strong #SpecialSession Property tax bills already filed!!!


"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

During his press conference announcing the special session, Governor Abbott said he wanted to see property tax relief in the form of "SB 2 [from the regular session] or better;" the precise language from the call leaves wide latitude for 'or better':
Legislation reforming the laws governing ad valorem property taxes.
While the big enchilada property tax bills have yet to be unveiled, a number of other property tax bills have been filed that fall well within the bounds of "or better":
  • HJR 16/HB 44 (Keough): "Relating to a limitation on increases in the appraised value of real property for ad valorem tax purposes."

    While it could go further, Keough's constitutional amendment and bill would begin to reign in out-of-control appraisal growth and it would apply those limits to all property, not just residential homesteads.
  • HJR 19/HB 71 (Bohac): "Relating to the limitation on increases in the appraised value of a residence homestead for ad valorem taxation."

    Bohac's constitutional amendment and bill is similar to Keough's but only applies to residential homesteads, not all property.
  • HB 75 (Darby): "Relating to transferring to the property tax relief fund one-half of any unencumbered balance of general revenue at the end of a state fiscal biennium."

    Darby's bill would dedicate half of any unspent revenue at the end of a budget cycle to property tax relief.
  • HJR 21/HB 82 (Darby): "Relating to the abolition of school district maintenance and operations ad valorem taxes.

    Darby's constitutional amendment and bill would eliminate the largest part of school district property taxes.

    [Note: Considering his role in killing property tax relief during the regular session, clearly Darby was taken to the woodshed by the Governor during the interim.]
  • HJR 23/HB 88 (Bell): "Relating to a limitation on increases in the appraised value of real property for ad valorem tax purposes.

    Bell's constitutional amendment and bill is similar to Keough's but with a whole bunch of exemptions related to local corporate welfare agreements.
  • HB 91 (Swanson): "Relating to the abolition of ad valorem taxes and a study of alternative methods of taxation to replace revenue lost to political subdivisions as a result of the abolition of ad valorem taxes."

    This is similar to the abolition of property taxes bill Swanson filed during the regular session and is consistent with the RPT legislative priority on property taxes abolition.
  • SB 21 (Nelson): "Relating to the system for protesting or appealing certain ad valorem tax determinations; authorizing a fee."

    Nelson's bill is rather complicated, but to the best of our understanding it would increase taxpayer protections in the appraisal appeal process and give the office of the Comptroller significantly more jurisdiction over appraisal boards.
A cynic will note that a number of these measures are constitutional amendments, meaning they need 100 votes in the House and 21 in the Senate to pass.  Thus, some of these measures might be more intended for show than for implementation.  That's certainly possible, but if events break in the right way we don't think it's inconceivable that a few of these make it across the finish line around day 26 or day 27 of the special.

And, again, keep in mind that the main property tax measure has yet to be unveiled.

Bottom Line: The status quo crowd should have taken 5% automatic rollback elections when that was the deal on the table.