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The Lege looms large

Friday, March 11, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Still some 10 months away, the 85th Texas Legislature is barely a blurry figure on the horizon, but its steady, stubborn gallop toward town is already putting the Travis County Commissioners Court on edge. At a work session on Thursday, County Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator Deece Eckstein delivered to the court a pastiche of possible property-tax issues that state lawmakers could tinker with come January. Eckstein explained that a select committee deputized by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been exploring reform options based on an agenda that one would not expect the majority of the court to find amenable. Among other things, the committee is exploring whether to require mandatory elections on any hike of the rollback rate, maintain the prohibition on sales-price disclosure and forbid legal challenges against appraisal districts, such as the one the city of Austin brought last year against the Travis Central Appraisal District. Commissioner Brigid Shea worried aloud that those and similar initiatives could severely limit local governments and the services they provide. Looking for the silver lining, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said that there are Republican leaders in surrounding counties and in urban areas who would also agree. Eckstein said that he “remains cautiously optimistic that we can prevent serious damage from happening to us.” Eckhardt wrapped up the work session by quoting legendary actress Bette Davis. “Fasten your seatbelts,” said Eckhardt. “It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

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