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.

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