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Anti-annexation bill now biggest threat to city

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Although there were numerous legislative proposals that threatened Austin at the beginning of the current session of the Texas Legislature, the one that now appears to put Austin’s ability to grow and pay for its services in greatest jeopardy is Senate Bill 715, according to Brie Franco, the city’s intergovernmental relations officer.

The legislation would require an election by the registered voters within an area proposed for annexation, so that if the population does not wish to be annexed, they can reject it.

In addition, SB 715 would also prevent cities from annexing for limited purposes, which is often done in order to extend municipal regulations, such as environmental rules, without the city providing additional services.

Franco expressed her concerns about the bill during Tuesday’s City Council work session. She later told the Austin Monitor the bill “would really limit Austin’s ability to use annexation as a tool to manage growth, even with environmental issues for instance. When there are communities that also border or are contiguous to Austin you have to ask yourself would those communities exist without Austin? And should they be contributing to the Austin taxpayer’s burden,” without contributing to the tax base?

Without the authority to annex freely, Austin could be in jeopardy of becoming like Detroit, she said, surrounded by suburbs and unable to grow their tax base.

The bill was approved by the Senate and reported favorably by the House Land and Resource Management Committee last week.

The bill’s authors include Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), who represents parts of San Antonio. But Sen. José Menéndez, a Democrat also from San Antonio, attached an amendment to the bill so that it does not affect an agreement between San Antonio and Converse for annexation of that area.

One piece of legislation that seemed threatening when it was filed now seems to just require more information under different names. In its original incarnation, SB 2 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), would have limited cities’ ability to raise property taxes by more than 4 percent above what they charged the year before.

However, the bill has changed considerably. According to information from the House Ways and Means Committee staff, a substitute proposal approved by the committee removed all references to changing the rollback rate from its current level of 8 percent. In addition, the bill does not change petition requirements for citizens to force an election and there would not be an automatic election.

Instead, the bill amends the tax code to rename what has been called the “effective tax rate” with regard to property taxation to the “no-new-revenue tax rate.”

The bill would require the state comptroller to prescribe tax rate calculation forms for taxing units except for school districts. There is a different but more complicated formula for school districts under the bill.

A good lobbyist never counts her or his victories until the Legislature goes home, and Franco is no exception. So, she warned Council Tuesday that even though several important deadlines had already passed, she would not allow her staff to declare any bill dead.

“Bills go to conference committees,” she said. “Sometimes you see new language sneak in there. … I don’t believe anything is fully dead until the end of session.”

Also, she noted, with fewer committee meetings and the crunch of the end of session, accessing members becomes harder and harder.

Later she told the Monitor, “My major concern is that some of the bills that we have strongly opposed will become amendments,” and it becomes very difficult to strip off those amendments.

Legislation Austin’s lobbyists have been watching that seems most likely to pass includes House Bill 1449 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), which would prevent cities from charging developers what are called “linkage fees.” The bill was approved by the House and reported out of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce on Monday. It has been placed on the Senate intent calendar and has until May 24 to become law.

Franco said that she also expects passage of the transportation networking company bill, which would eliminate municipal regulations for companies like Uber and Lyft.

Photo by Anthony Quintano made available through a Creative Commons license.

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