By Elna Christopher
Director of Media Relations
The first hearing of the session on a revenue cap bill will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, March 21, in Senate Finance, Room E1.036 of the Capitol Extension.
A number of county officials will testify or sign in regarding the harmful bill. If you are in Austin Monday, we encourage you to make your voice heard.
SB 720 by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) would severely restrict local governments from making local determinations on how much revenue is necessary to provide services — including unfunded and under-funded mandates. The bill would lower the rollback rate to 5 percent unless certain harsh conditions are met, such as natural disasters that have already occurred.
Counties would only be able to go to an 8 percent rollback rate if any part of the taxing unit is located in an area declared a disaster area by the governor or the president of the United States during the current tax year, or the governing body finds that a higher tax rate is necessary to protect the health, safety or property of persons residing in the taxing unit.
Even as counties continue their quest for a constitutional amendment prohibiting future unfunded mandates and to stop state budget cuts from turning into more unfunded mandates, some legislators would prefer to lower the 8 percent rollback rate.
This bill would not allow for growth planning, road construction to meet the demands of growth, unforeseen cost drivers such as capital murder trials or mandated needs such as new jail construction. It could mean depletion of reserve funds that would lower bond ratings which would cost taxpayers more in the long run.
Problems with the bill are numerous. If the natural disaster — be it a hurricane, tornado or huge wildfire — has already occurred, your county is undoubtedly spending funds from this year’s budget that were budgeted to deliver other services. What happens to the services from which budget money is borrowed for the natural disaster? This puts your county behind the eight-ball even before it’s time to set next year’s budget and tax rate.
Just what is meant by the term “to protect the health, safety or property of persons residing in the taxing unit?” Does building a new jail to meet the burden of growth and the regulations of the Jail Standards Commission fall into the definition? Does a capital murder trial fit the definition? Does new road construction to help ease traffic gridlock match up with the definition?
The bill does not address the fallout counties will feel from proposed state budget cuts that could force counties and their taxpayers to pick up more of the tab for state programs such as adult and juvenile probation or caring for the mentally ill when there are no state hospital beds for them.
Nor does the bill address the local control issues regarding “quality-of-life” services such as libraries, parks and restoration of historic courthouses that make our communities more dynamic and livable.
TAC has prepared a one-page document detailing some of the problems.