Many of the lege insiders I know on Twitter seem to think that Dennis Bonnen (R-45 minute drive from Houston) will be a swell speaker. Among other things, he has committed to maintaining the weird Texas tradition where members of the minority party chair some committees. Some Democrats have voiced support for him as speaker. (It’s not like they have the option of supporting a Democrat, but it’s still an interesting spectacle for those of us accustomed to national politics, where one never, ever voices support for a speaker from the opposing party)
Dems picked up 12 seats in the State House, reducing the GOP’s majority from 95-55 to 83-67. Particularly heartening for Austin are the four seats Dems picked up in Central Texas. The Tribune summarizes:
John Bucy III defeated state Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Erin Zwiener edged Republican Ken Strange for a seat being vacated by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs; James Talarico beat Republican Cynthia Flores to succeed former state Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock; and Democrat Vikki Goodwin unseated state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin.
Austin-area Republicans are most likely to fixate on overturning city of Austin ordinances, so these departures could help steer the lege away from gratuitous Austin-bashing.
The greatest threat to the city of Austin are not bills that target its tree protections or even its paid sick leave ordinance. The biggest potential headache is the GOP’s plans to severely reduce the ability of cities, counties and school districts to collect property taxes.
Currently, local governments are allowed to collect 8% more in property tax revenue each year than they did the previous year. To be clear, that DOES NOT mean that cities are allowed to raise the tax rate by 8% each year. It means that they are allowed to increase their revenues by that amount, whether that increase is due to an increased tax rate or increased property values. This past year, for instance, the city reduced the actual rate but increased collections by nearly 5%.
Currently, 8% is the “rollback rate.” If a local government wants to collect even more revenue, residents are allowed to challenge the increase through a “rollback election,” assuming they gather enough signatures. If the rollback election succeeds, then the government is forced to reduce its revenue increase to the rollback rate.
For years, Republicans have been talking about reducing the rollback rate. Last year, the Senate passed a bill to reduce it to 4% and the House approved one taking it down to 6%. Negotiations between the two chambers failed and nothing ultimately passed. Phew.
Now, the governor says he wants to reduce the rollback rate to 2.5%. That’s insane. I’ll explain why in further detail in the future, but suffice it to say that such a dramatic change would force cities to impose draconian cuts to services. Yes, any city would be free to go as far above the rollback rate as it likes, but it would do so based on the very likely prospect of having the rate shot down in a low turnout election (which itself would be expensive) dominated by conservative homeowners.
But we’ve got a sensible, bipartisan-minded House speaker, right? He’s not going to go along with something crazy like that, right? Well, he stood behind Abbott at the press conference where the governor announced the plan. That’s not a good sign.