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Texas mayors take aim at Legislature’s tax caps

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and the mayors of nine other large Texas cities came together Monday to declare their intention to fight any proposal to diminish local government control, especially cities’ authority to set tax rates. The idea of a state-imposed revenue cap on their collections is of greatest concern to cities.

“We want to talk about the need to have self-determination over how we operate our cities,” Adler said. “Local control over issues is imperative. We are providing the essential functions in our communities to keep our people safe, prosperous and connected through essential infrastructure and other vital services.”

Ten cities in all, organized through the Texas Municipal League, have signed on to a “value statement for the 84th Legislature.” Prior to an afternoon news conference, the group known as the M-10 listened to a briefing and worked together on a statement they wanted to deliver to the legislators.

That statement says, “Texas cities pledge to be your partner in maintaining the state’s robust economy by providing safe communities, essential infrastructure, and vital services. Cities – the government closest to the people – embody the idea that ‘We the People’ should be in control. Because of that, local control is a central facet of our state’s government.”

In their statement, the mayors tried to illustrate the fact that revenue caps could have a devastating impact on cities but do very little for individual property owners: “For example, a property owner in the city of Dallas with an assessed value of $250,000 would see a cut in city property taxes of $33.10 annually, or about $2.75 a month – around the price of a cup of coffee. But the impact of a cap on Dallas’ ability to provide service would be substantial – less police, slower emergency response, fewer parks.”

In addition to Adler, Mayors Annise Parker of Houston, Ivy Taylor of San Antonio, Betsy Price of Fort Worth, Oscar Lesser of El Paso, Nelda Martinez of Corpus Christi and Harry LaRosillere of Plano spoke at the conference and set off for the Capitol to speak to legislators about their concerns Monday afternoon.

Each of those in attendance stated that they were united in their opposition to tightening caps on property taxes.

Houston’s Parker talked about the devastating impact city tax cuts would have on the state’s economy as a whole. San Antonio’s Taylor said cities “need to maintain their flexibility so that we can provide those services as our populations continue to grow.”

Martinez from Corpus Christi stressed the individual needs of cities. Coastal cities, for example, may have expenses related to hurricane preparation and damage that cities in other parts of the state do not.

The mayors of Dallas and Arlington were joining this group to lobby their representatives but did not attend the news conference, according to Adler’s aide Sara Hartley. Hartley also said the mayor of Laredo was part of M-10, but could not come to Austin on Monday.

One piece of legislation drawing particularly negative interest is SB 343 by Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), which would prevent local governments from enacting any rules or regulations that might not be in line with state regulations. According to the bill, “Unless expressly authorized by state statute a local government shall not implement an ordinance, rule, or regulation that conflicts with or is more stringent than a state statute or rule regardless of when the state statute or rule takes effect.”

Regarding this bill, the Texas Municipal League says, “SB 343 would totally upend the relationship between Texas cities and state government, making Texas like the state of New York. City voters and locally elected officials would have to get the state legislature’s permission to enact any local ordinance.”

Of course, there’s very little that could be worse in the eyes of many Texans than being compared to New York. But, according to TML, New York has just such a law.

There are several other anti-municipal proposals that seem more likely to pass than SB 343, but not if the mayors have their way.

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