Featured, from left: City Commissioner Eleazar Guajardo, City of Pharr, and Vice President, Pharr Economic Development Corporation; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Víctor Pérez, Executive Director, Pharr Economic Development Corporation; and Mario Lizcano, Administrator of Corporate Affairs, DHR Health, and Treasurer, Board of Directors, Pharr Economic Development Corporation. This image was taken on Thursday, August 2, 2018 as part of the celebration marking the completion of the Owassa Road project that improves traffic between Pharr, Edinburg and McAllen.
Photograph By MIRNA SAPALICIO
Sen. Hinojosa reappointed Vice Chair of Senate Finance Committee; signs up as co-author of legislation to provide $5,000 teacher pay raise
By PAUL TOWNSEND
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, on Friday, January 18, 2019 announced Senate committee assignments for the 86th Legislative Session, with Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, reappointed for the sixth consecutive time as Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
He will continue his appointments to the Senate Transportation Committee and the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development. Hinojosa has also been appointed to the newly created Senate Committee on Property Tax and the Senate Committee on Agriculture.
Hinojosa said he anticipates his committee assignments will allow him to promote the Valley in the Senate on key priorities.
“South Texas continues to grow and I am pleased that through my committee appointments I will be able to keep the needs of our region at the forefront,” he said “I look forward to working with my Senate and House colleagues to bring forth practical solutions that will benefit our Texas families and ensure our state’s continued prosperity.”
His continued appointment as Vice Chair of Senate Finance and his new appointment to the Property Tax Committee secures his influential leadership position and his significant impact on the state budget-writing process that will benefit the South Texas region.
“I am honored that Lt. Governor Patrick has again entrusted me with the important responsibility of serving as Vice Chair of Senate Finance. I look forward to working with Chair (Sen. Jane) Nelson (R-Flower Mound), the committee members, and Committee on House Appropriations to craft a state budget that addresses our state’s needs and makes the investments necessary to continue Texas’ economic growth.”
The upcoming state budget, which will go into effect on September 1, 2019, will cover a two-year period. The current state budget, which went into effect on September 1, 2017, is $217 billion. That figure includes money generated from all sources, including federal funds.
Hinojosa is the only state senator from the Rio Grande Valley to be appointed to serve on the 15-member Senate Finance Committee, and one of four Democrats on that legislative panel.
“As in past sessions, there will not be enough money available to do all the things we would like,” Hinojosa said. “However, I am committed to working with my colleagues to find ways to fund education and essential healthcare services, invest in our youth and workforce through education and skills training, create more jobs, and invest in the infrastructure we need for future success.”
The other 14 senators assigned to the Senate Finance Committee are: Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who is Chair; Paul Bettencourt,R-Houston; Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury; Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels; Peter Flores, R-Pleasanton; Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills; Joan Huffman, R-Houston; Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville; Charles Perry, R-Lubbock; Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Kirk Watson, D-Austin; Royce West, D-Dallas; and John Whitmire, D-Houston.
Nelson first woman in Texas history to chair a budget-writing committee
Nelson, the Texas Senate’s highest ranking Republican, became the first woman in Texas history to chair a budget-writing committee when she was appointed in 2014 to lead the Senate Finance Committee for the first time.
“I am honored to be reappointed and am ready to get to work on crafting a responsible budget that adds resources to education, gives teachers a raise, funds enrollment growth, enhances school safety and reduces our reliance on recapture under the so-called Robin Hood system,” Nelson said. “We will prioritize mental health, transportation, public safety and other important issues. I am personally committed to making sure this budget helps victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking.”
In the Texas Legislature, the state budget is developed and approved in the Senate by the Finance Committee. In the House of Representatives, the state budget is development and approved by the Appropriations Committee.
Where there are differences in the Senate and House versions of the budget, the final budget is the result of negotiations to come up with a compromise by a conference committee. A conference committee is composed of five members from each chamber appointed by the respective presiding officers to resolve the differences between the house and senate versions of a measure when the originating chamber refuses to concur in the changes made by the opposite chamber.
Although the main responsibility of the Senate Finance Committee is to work with the House Appropriations Committee to come up with the state’s two-year operating budget, is also holds public hearings on many other legislative measures during the Legislature’s 140-day regular session.
In 2017, the Senate Finance Committee heard testimony on 240 bills, with 102 of those measures being approved by the panel. Of those 102 bills, 60 bills went on to become state law.
Under the Senate rules, the lieutenant governor, often in partnership with the chair of each respective Senate committee and with input from state senators, mutually decide which individual bills are referred to committees.
In 2017, as illustrations, measures that wound up providing more protection for disabled veterans facing tough times paying their property taxes, allowing property owners to protest a property appraisal through a telephone conference call to the local appraisal board, and qualifying the surviving spouse of a fallen first responder a tax deduction on their homestead property taxes were considered by the Senate Finance Committee, and became state law.
Senate Property Tax Committee to tackle “skyrocking property taxes,” Hinojosa says
Hinojosa also provided insight into his appointment to a newly-created legislative panel: the five-member Senate Property Tax Committee.
“Finding a solution to skyrocketing property taxes that is fair, equitable, and meets the needs of Texans is a priority. It is a real problem when the property tax bills being paid by our working families are as much as a mortgage payment,” the District 20 state senator explained. “Our families should not be priced out of their homes because of a broken tax system.”
Along with Hinojosa, his colleagues on the Senate Property Tax Committee are Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who is committee Chair; Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, who is committee Vice Chair; Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; and Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills.
The Senate Property Tax Committee is the result of action in 2017 by the lieutenant governor, who created its predecessor, the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform.
Legislation likely to be considered in public hearings this spring by the Senate Property Tax Committee are the following issues for which the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform held public hearings since last year:
• Voter Engagement: Study and recommend ways to enhance voter engagement in local government decisions around budgets and property tax rates through digital media and social media. Determine how budget and tax rate information should be formatted for effective communication through digital and social media. Identify the ways in which digital and social media;
• Tax Rate and Appraisal Reform: Evaluate the effective tax rate and rollback tax rate calculations and identify modifications that would yield a rollback process that is meaningful for local governments and for citizens. Evaluate whether the current rollback election trigger serves modern objectives;
• Evaluate the operations of appraisal review boards (ARBs), specifically the training and expertise of members concerning appraisal standards and law, ethics, and meeting procedures. Determine whether ARB operations are sufficiently independent of central appraisal districts and taxing units and whether ARBs and/or chief appraisers should be elected;
• Property Tax Data: Evaluate whether existing libraries of property tax data and collection methods are adequate for studying local property tax outcomes and identifying drivers of growing property tax levies. Determine the scope of existing data, where it is stored, and how it is made available to the public. Determine whether existing, available data is adequate for the needs of the legislature and the public. Review existing procedures for the collection and verification of data. Receive recommendations from the comptroller regarding the collection, verification, and publication of property tax data; and
• Lowering Property Tax Burden: Study the feasibility of replacing the property tax with sales tax or other consumption tax revenue, with emphasis on school maintenance and operations tax. Evaluate whether some local property taxes lend themselves to a swap more than others. Quantify the short-term and long-term economic effects of a tax swap. Identify a target property tax rate and evaluate how to reach that target with a consumption tax swap.
HINOJOSA CO-AUTHORS LEGISLATION FOR A $5,000 TEACHER SALARY INCREASE
On Tuesday, January 15, 2019, Hinojosa joined as co-author of Senate Bill 3.
This bill, if passed, will provide Texas’ 350,000 classroom teachers a permanent $5,000 salary increase.
“I am proud to join Senator Nelson as co-author of Senate Bill 3. Our teachers are key to a quality education. They are the backbone of our education system and this pay raise is long overdue,” he said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to secure this pay increase for our teachers as well as reforming our public school finance system. The reforms should aim to provide an equal playing field to ensure similar access to educational funds for every public school system regardless of wealth or location. Education is the best equalizer. We must give our school children the best resources we can for them to succeed.”
Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is a businesswoman and a former educator.
“The most important investment we can make in education is in our teachers. They are the key factor in preparing our students for success,” she said. “Teaching has always been a labor of love, but we need to elevate the profession, recruit the best and brightest to the classrooms and compensate our teachers for the critical role they play in shaping the future of Texas.”
In addition to the proposed $5,000 teacher pay raise, SB 3 would require that the salary increase be paid by the state with funding flowing through a new Classroom Teacher Salary Allotment, and that the additional state funding must pass through districts for the sole purpose of raising each classroom teacher’s pay by $5,000 over their salary for the 2018-19 school year.
The proposed pay raise would have an estimated cost of $3.7 billion in the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 state budget, beginning on September 1, 2o19.
Hinojosa added that the introduced Senate Budget totals $62.2 billion for public education, which a 12.5 percent increase (or a $6.9 billion), in comparison to the current biennium. The initial proposed increases includes the $3.7 billion for the increased teacher salary, $2.3 billion for property tax relief, $0.9 billion in the Foundation School Program (FSP), and $204.7 million in Federal Funds. Appropriations for the FSP include an estimated $2.4 billion for student enrollment growth.
The list of all Senate committees and their membership is available at: https://www.ltgov.state.tx.us/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/2019_Texas_Senate_Committees_v2.pdf
TEXAS SENATE VERSION OF BUDGET INCLUDES MORE MONEY FOR EDUCATION, MENTAL HEALTH AND TRANSPORTATION
The Senate will put more money towards education, mental health and transportation, according to the chamber’s chief budget writer, Finance Committee Chair and Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson, announced on Wednesday, January 16, 2019.
According to Texas Senate News, which provides news coverage for the Texas Senate:
The state is in better shape economically than in January 2017, where state revenue collections had decreased nearly a percent over the previous biennium. Less revenue means a tighter budget, but that’s not the case this session, with strong economic growth leading to nearly $120 billion in available general revenue, according to the Comptroller’s office. That’s up from a little less than $105 billion two years ago.
The budget filed late Tuesday, January 15, 2019, is an increase of $8.4 billion over last biennium, for a total of $112 billion in general, non-dedicated revenue for state services in 2020 and 2021.
In a statement released Tuesday, January 15, 2019, Nelson said that past conservative budgets have left the state in great economic shape today.
“Our commitment to fiscal responsibility is paying major dividends, affording us an opportunity to secure the Texas miracle for generations to come. This budget makes targeted investments in education, including a well-deserved pay raise for Texas teachers, and continues our work on transportation, mental health and other key priorities,” her statement read.
The Senate’s budget includes more funding for public education, including $3.7 billion for a $5,000 across-the-board teacher pay raise and $2.4 billion to fund enrollment growth of about 65,000 new students. It also includes $2.3 billion to reduce reliance on property taxes and recapture, known more commonly as the “Robin Hood” system of public school finance.
Finally, it would earmark $230 million to maintain current premiums and benefits for retired teachers.
For health and human services, the Senate budget would spend a total of $7.5 billion across 21 state agencies to improve access to mental health care and reduce waitlists. It would fund women’s health programs at a record level of $285 million and would include funding to maintain current caseloads at Child Protective Services.
The Texas Department of Transportation would get more money, nearly half a billion dollars, raising the total appropriation for the agency that oversees planning and construction of state transportation infrastructure to $31.2 billion. State parks and historical sites would get more money under the Senate plan, with all sporting goods sales tax collections going to the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Historical Commission.
Because the Legislature budgets for the future, every session lawmakers have to reconcile accounts between projected costs and revenues and actual costs and revenues.
This session, the Senate will consider $4.2 billion for that purpose as detailed in the supplemental appropriations bill, SB 500. That includes $1 billion for Harvey disaster recovery, $2.1 billion for the Medicaid Shortfall and $600 million to address pension shortfalls for teachers and state employees. It would draw $2.5 billion out of the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund to help pay for these and other expenses.
The governor must sign a budget before the Legislature leaves in late May, and what passes will be the result of negotiations between the House and Senate.
In 2017, the Senate proposed spending $103 billion that January, but the final budget signed by Gov. Gregg Abbott totaled almost $108 billion.
This year, the House filed budget would spend $115 billion, about $3 billion more than the Senate.
Both chambers historically pass their appropriations bill by late March or early April in order to give House and Senate negotiators enough time to reconcile the two versions of the state budget for the next two years.
David A. Díaz, Alexa Hoisager, and Texas Senate News contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).