Well, the 86th Texas Legislative Session starts this Tuesday. The GOP lost some numbers but still has full control And, with new leadership provided by Dennis Bonnen, there is actually MORE hope for a productive session than the last one. What will be our top priorities?
- Property tax REFORM that leads to FAR slower growth: This is different than a ‘tax cut’. A cut is a single-point of impact; it can quickly overrun by effective tax rate growth in just a couple year. We had a small case of that 2 sessions ago via the increase in homestead exemption- that was immediately swamped by appraisal growth.
- Public education refinancing to put Robin Hood on the path of elimination: Austin gives up $500 million/yr, Plano $209 million/ yr. to other districts- and has no say in HOW those funds are used. Including, in one case, both building & maintaining a school water park. State funds must DIRECTLY be provided the needy districts- with ASSURANCES it is spent on CLASSROOM needs.Fully elimination of Robin Hood in 1-2 years is likely not fiscally possible but it should be doable in 3-6 years.
- Vote Integrity, especially elimination of dual votes & non-citizen voting. First, they need to permit matching of court summons reply claiming non-citizen status to voting records, Then they need to permit matching of folks with multiple addresses (like college students) and check for voting in multiple locations. State-run University residence records should be made available, for example, as should voting at residences where the owners do NOT claim homestead exemptions.
- Increasing E-Verification usage & keeping citizenship designation on driver licenses: Every effort should be made to assure that money that the state has control over does NOT go to employ illegal aliens. That include SUB-contracted labor. Every state site should have EVERYONE drawing pay be E-Verified.
- Franchise Tax on direct path elimination, emphasizing small businesses first: this tax has high compliance costs on businesses and needs to be eliminated over the next 3-4 years.
The circus called the Texas Legislature comes to Austin in a few days & will run for at least 5 months. What can people expect? A pretty different environment than for the last couple
- The new Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen will mean different House Leadership. Many of the moves Rep. Bonnen has made so far have been positive ones to reduce backroom & lobbyist control of the House that predominated the Straus tenure. But, once the heat comes, we’ll see how that holds up. Dennis is a man of strong will & opinion. which will most assuredly prove to be both a feature AND a bug in his Speakership. Bus, as someone whose first introduction to Dennis was having him try to verbally beat my views on tax relief into submission for 20 minutes when I spoke before his committee, I actually have hope that he’ll be a far better Speaker than Straus.
- A New speaker means new Committee Chairs- ones that will NOT have to ‘kiss the ring of Democrat lobbyist Gordon Johnson to get the position, as they did with Straus. Also, a number of ‘problems’ retired- most notably Byron Cook. There is great hope that Rep. Bonnen will be far faster in getting Chairs in place to get to work. Last session, Straus took 35 days; hopefully, Bonnen will take less than half that time.
- The election left us with 12 less GOP Texas House members and 1 less GOP Senator. The GOP still holds solid majorities, but not as solid. The practical impact of that is an expectation that the most controversial fights will be less likely to occur. Frankly, there is little taste for revisiting the ‘bathroom bill’ kerfuffle, except those that live to gen up division. More critical issues of education funding reorganization and property tax reform will be the main focus. The Dems will push hard on a number of issues, most involving lots more spending.
- The Senate will be slightly less conservative with the loss of Konnie Burton & Don Huffines, with the addition of Pete Flores. However, with Bonnen’s public commitment to try to work with the Senate and the initial unity of the GOP Caucus- something we have NOT had for many sessions- there are opportunities for conservative advancement.
- But one thing is constant. There are large & powerful forces in the Professional Political Class that got that way by fostering division & discord and will try to undo ANY attempts at unity. Dennis Bonnen has been at this long enough, I’m sure he is aware of this & hopefully he’ll fight those forces to some degree.
- We’ll see how it all comes together. We’ll be reporting as much blow by blow as we can manage. Stay tuned.
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