There is no application more important to a state level citizen advocate to become comfortable with than Texas Legislature Online (TLO). While we’ve heard others have put together tutorials, I haven’t seen any freely available online. So, here is our TLO Tutorial, Version 1; make use of it as you will. Really can’t go into complete detail because the session has not begun Committees need to be assigned (hopefully, before Feb.1) and bills assigned to committees before things get rolling.
“We never own our property, we only are renting it because of property taxes.” That surely SEEMS to be true, doesn’t it?
“We should do away with property taxes!” Highly unlikely & actually philosophically wrong.
Listen, properties- especially homes- require SERVICES. Streets, water, sewer police & fire protection. Those services are needed by property owners and need to be PAID by property owners. It could be done solely by usage fees, but the large infrastructure needed to setup to deliver those BASIC services are not as easy to fund solely on per usage charges, especially the highly intermittent services of police & fire.So property taxes are a logical way to pay for those. Park land & basic maintenance as well (as a non-essential service).
However, after that, it gets real questionable. Those rec centers, becoming more & more like posh health clubs? Swimming pools, libraries, water parks, senior centers? There are a LOT of property owners that do NOT make use of those services. and would NOT be affected by the denial of service by them. Why are these not SOLELY usage fee-based? The users of these services would howl if they actually had to pay the full cost of these themselves; their generic excuse is that they ‘add to the value of ALL property owners’. NOT while the CURRENT non-users own the properties, though.
This latter consideration ALSO applies to the BIGGEST property tax burden- schools. The people who utilize this government service are vastly fewer in number than those who PAY for it. And those that DO use it generally pay for it before and LONG after they made use of that service. This is a MAJOR redistribution of wealth- and, from a philosophical viewpoint, a questionable use of the property taxation power
Compounding this misuse of taxing authority is the UNIQUE aspect property as a personal investment; it is taxed on the CURRENT value, not the purchased price, plus on capital gains at the time of sale (when the investor is assured of the money to PAY the tax). The problem of this; is the cost of the government services provided to the GIVEN PROPERTY actually tied to current value of the property (whether that is going up- or down). No it is not; ti’s only based on slight inflationary cost increases to provide those services to that property. .
However, most folks have gotten use to this inappropriate approach.of paying for government service. The CURRENT problem is this; the tax load that HAS been dumped on the property owner has gotten to the point of putting home ownership at risk, especially in retirement. And the largest part of that growth is from the school-related taxes, a government service that almost ALL people approaching retirement hasn’t made use of for 15 years or more. To lose one’s home to pay for a government service not being used by the taxpayer for that long makes NO sense whatsoever.
This last part is what the Texas Legislature needs to be assured is addressed by the end of this next session, along with the end of the insanity of Robin Hood. My ideal result by June is
1) Robin Hood is on a short, irreversible path to elimination.
2) Reductions in school property taxes for retirees are in place.
3) The State of Texas is, under it’s constitutional commitment to ‘adequate education’ is paying ALL School M&O associated with actual classroom teaching; teachers, student counselors, etc.The increased funding from the state MUST be ABSOLUTELY tied to matching reductions in school district taxation. (The public ed folks will fight this tooth & toenail; they’ll see it as an opportunity for double income.).
These are the bills up to December 4th. We expect a few more but this is the bulk of them all in one PDF file. You can wordsearch the subjects or search for a legislator. Again, the link to Texas Legislature Online is here; learn to use it to have any hope of finding out what’s going on and when. Some real stupidity in here and a few good bills. The first 20 numbers are not assigned and will go to the new Speaker’s priorities.
We will often talk about the Professional Political Class. It essentially is all people who make a direct living off of the business of Politics. This breaks out into several groups:
- Political Officials – We elect these folks and we often wonder how they go ‘bad’
- Campaign Consultants – They make their living on division and conflict, every 2 years.
- Government Employees
- Legislative Staff – Normally appalling young & inexperienced; even veterans often have little private sector experience
- Agency Appointees & Staff – often way more experienced, mainly advocating for their own budgets.
- Lobbyists – include advocacy group here. Paid to shape & sway opinion, often against the general interests of the average taxpaying producer.
This piece will be bout this last group; a group most people don’t think about until the legislatives session in in full swinng. But they are working year-round to expand and solidify their influence.
How many lobbyists are there. Well, as of 2018, there are 1,630 lobbying entities listed here ; 9 lobbying entities for every single legislator. While many are single individuals, some are firms of various sizes; I have heard AT&T has 107 lobbyists in their group. Here is a list of the 7,287 lobbyist clients registered for 2018; over 40 per legislator. These figures make it clear; the legislators face a professional horde to inundate them with paid opinions; and over half of them are paid- directly or indirectly- with taxpayer money from cities, counties, school districts and other political entities.
Then add the amount of money that is spent in the lobbying efforts; the expensive meals, entertainment, and parties. Over $3.7 million on food & beverage alone las year; over $20,000 per legislator for a 6 month session. (Some of that goes to legislative staff to, like a weekly BBQ lunch in some hallways).
The liberal & ‘big government’ advocacy groups also have organized mobs of very polished ‘witnesses’ in Austin (or can come to Austin as part of their government job) that swarm committee hearings. It is one area the conservative voice is completely outmatched. We that do testify are often outnumbered 50 to 100 to 1.
The average taxpaying ‘producer’ citizen have little chance for their voices to be heard during session against the volume & wealth brought to the lobbying efforts. But we must try. Electronic communication is weakest (email, etc.), phone calls are a little better. Personal contact is best, as is showing up for hearings. We need to CONSTANTLY remind the legislators during session who actually elected them.
One last point: For anyone wanting to get involved and become a Texas citizen activist in the state legislature, the first absolutely necessary technical skill you can develop is to learn most of the functionality found in the Texas Legislature Online (TLO) You can watch hearings and sessions online, read & track bill, get notifications, etc. We’re hoping to have an online training link to it hear at a later date.
As for me (Mike Openshaw) , I’ll be there full-time for this next session , trying to stand against the Lobbyist Legions. And I will NOT be mistaken for one of them. Indeed, this website now has a secondary access URL: http://www.NotADamnLobbyist.org
Nearly ALL of it great stuff for conservatives and a reason to hope
- Press Conferences announcing 109 supporters – He kept it VERY brief; only took 2 questions; Scott Braddock was first, asking if there would be Democrat chairs. “I’m glad you actually asked me that here since you already wrote that there wouldn’t be; yes, we will have Democrat chairs.” A headslap to a reporter first thing out the gate; Great stuff. Answered that education finance would be the top priority And that was it. Less than 10 minutes.
How he got to 109 is very important; he SPECIFICALLY did it by going through the GOP caucus FIRST to assure the super-majority needed for the GOP caucus meeting; only then started call some Democrats. He did it the RIGHT way, not as Straus did and Rep. Clardy was planning to.
- Picked Bryan McCall to head transition team – Bryan was a Collin County state rep with a VERY weak voting record and was being targeted by conservatives when he took a chancellor job in the UT system. Probably why he was chosen is, beyond knowing Austins ins & outs, he’s done a dissertation on Texas Speakers and knows historically the approaches they took. As transition leader, acceptable & may give some guidance on past examples.
- Called his #1 conservative adversary Jonathan Stickland – they apparently had a constructive conversation and Jonathan is less concerned about him as speaker. All other Freedom Caucus member were already on board.
- Signalling that lobbyists are not part of his actual ‘team’; Gordon Johnson is out. – This is a new and critical dynamic.
- Picked a pretty solid conservative as Chief of Staff – Gavin Massingill
- Put together a 10 member, 5R/5D to select a new Parliamentarian – this addresses complaints from BOTH sides that Straus’s parliamentarian was strictly ruling based on what Straus wanted; it had gotten ludicrous.
- Talked & released a joint statement with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – about a new era of cooperative work with the conservative Senate. That will be refreshing.
- Named Gardner Pate as Director of Policy & General Counsel – A great choice; a long history on ethics reform and runs the conservative coalition Research Institute
So is everything just perfect? By NO means! Anyone who has dealt with Dennis in his committees knows he is a hard case and there is some concern hi temper will get the better of him in this job (it is a MADDENING undertaking of herding feral cats). He’s been very much a ‘My way or the highway’ type in many instances. That can work FOR the conservative cause- or against it.
The jury is still out, but an exceptionally promising set of opening moves. FAR better that was expected after the election.
So, the Speaker race is essentially done. The GOP caucus vote will be meaningless, but it LOOMING in the future was useful in getting this decision. I know some people are disappointed that a LOT of this was done behind the scenes; unfortunately it apparently became necessary because the Democrats. were planning to spring their OWN coalition right after the election; a Straus-style coalition of the Democrats plus enough GOP members supporting Clardy to seal the deal. After losing so many GOP members in the election, it became imperative to settle things quickly.
Why Dennis Bonnen, over say Tan Parker or Phil King? Certainly not privy to those conversation but I can assume a major reason: There is no question that Dennis is the biggest ‘hard-ass’ in the House. While that gives me substantial concern for how he’l run things, I can assure, as soon as his name came forward with his initial list, a number of GOP members froze, terrified they’d go into the Strausian deal, watch a couple members get peeled off and LOSE to Bonnen. Nightmare visions of red staplers, janitorial closets as offices, and a sole committee assignment to a new Committee on Waste Regulation danced in their heads. More & more joined on with Bonnen and the steam roller moved on.
What it means to the conservative agenda of Freedom Caucus types? We REALLY don’t know. I know theat Jonathan Stickland isn’t happy about this; he and Dennis have ‘issues’ with each other; hopefully they’ll work something out; Stick is GREAT at being the ‘bad cop’ when it comes to bad bills, Dennis should accept that and actually use it to some degree. . The rest? I am surprised how accepting they were of Dennis over others. So it may go OK. But one thing is for sure. Dennis Bonnen will drive this train HIS way; it’s in his nature. Committee assignments will tell the story and I Certainly don’t expect Speaker Bonnen to be the 35-day slacker Straus was
They are sorted in the House side by the Democrat Cash On Hand as of July 1, something of a measure of how Democrats plan to target the legislative races. The numbers suggest a fairly minimal effort on the Senate side, mainly against Konni Burton & Angela Paxton. But the House has some pretty clear targeting with Dem dollars (highlighted in the spreadsheet); Mainly Dallas County seats, especially Matt Rinaldi‘s.
Remember, these are early financial numbers; but is is informational.