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Local state reps talk turkey at RECA luncheon

Thursday, January 15, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

On Wednesday, Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) gave members of the Real Estate Council of Austin a preview of the upcoming legislative session.

Despite the partisan gap, the two representatives found some common ground during the preview. Though they mostly focused on different topics, both addressed issues that could impact Austin directly.

A “huge issue,” said Rodriguez, is property tax.

“It’s becoming extremely problematic,” said Rodriguez. “When your income isn’t going up and your property tax is going up, it’s a big problem.”

He has filed a bill that will permit local taxing authorities to cap the allowed 20 percent property tax exemption at $65,000. Though that would require a constitutional amendment, Rodriguez said it would allow the city to provide some relief while giving it the power to manage its budget.

City Council recently voted to enact a $5,000 property tax exemption. Many of the newly elected Council members campaigned with a promise of a 20 percent homestead tax exemption.

Rodriguez said he was working toward instituting a $10 registration fee in Travis County. That fee would stay in the county and go toward roads.

“Since TxDOT really hasn’t been providing as much money as they have been — or should be — we want to also provide the local option to let the city and county address its traffic needs … with some local funding,” said Rodriguez.

Workman also took time to compliment the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. He said he would work hard to prevent proposed restrictions on mobility authorities statewide.

“There is a movement around the state to rein in these regional mobility authorities,” said Workman. “It turns out that of all the regional mobility authorities around the state, ours, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, is the most efficient, it’s got the most done for the money they’ve got, and it’s got the best public image of any of them.”

Though he was short on details about what he had planned, Workman also said that he would be “looking at” Chapter 245 of the Development Code (grandfathering) and Austin’s Project Duration Ordinance.

“We are going to continue to watch that very carefully,” said Workman. “We may have some legislation that we want to talk about with RECA to do something with Chapter 245.”

During the state’s previous legislative session, Workman filed several bills targeting the city’s prior incarnation of the Project Duration ordinance.

Workman is working on a piece of legislation that would eliminate the business personal property tax entirely.

“It is a very bad tax. It is not uniformly administered,” said Workman. “If you’ve got a desk or you’ve got a widget-maker in your facility … there’s no way for them to tell what that’s worth.”

Workman said there wasn’t “that much” revenue generated by the tax. Rodriguez said that he would be inclined to support the proposition, with the understanding that the revenue for local governments would be made up in some other way.

Rodriguez said that one of the bills he will be working on is renaming the state’s Special Events Trust Fund the “Special Events Reimbursement Fund.” He said the change would make the fund less controversial.

Rodriguez added that the economic incentives interim committee had taken a look at that and other funds, including the Enterprise Fund. It came to the conclusion that the state needed more transparency and more clarity on whether taxpayers’ money was going toward creating jobs, or creating a return on its investment.

To that end, Rodriguez was in the process of drafting an “incentives matrix.” That matrix will look at dollars spent by state and local governments on things such as roads and infrastructure and weigh that against the benefits brought by events and businesses.

“Recently, there was a study by the governor’s office about some mismanagement of the Texas Enterprise Fund. That was true. It wasn’t run very well,” said Rodriguez. “I think even people in Gov. Perry’s office would admit to that.”

Despite that, Rodriguez said doing away with the fund would be a “very, very bad idea.” He pointed out that every other state had a similar fund, and removing it would put Texas at a disadvantage.

Workman also hoped that desalination would be addressed this session. In his opinion, the state should build three large seawater conversion plants along the coast to ensure freshwater for Texans into the future.

Both representatives agreed that the state’s budget is likely to be the biggest issue they face this session. This year, Texas has a $220.9 billion budget with a $7.5 billion surplus.

“Many times, having a surplus is harder than having a shortfall,” said Rodriguez. “Because everybody has their hand out. … It’s a challenge.”

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