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Local tax caps not favored by area state lawmakers

By Glenn Evans
Jan. 4, 2017 at 11:43 p.m.

KILGORE — A trio of Republican state lawmakers got on the same page with Kilgore-area leaders Wednesday as the start of their 140-day legislative session nears.

State Rep.-elect Jay Dean of Longview and Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches assured a small crowd of city, county and school officials they are unlikely to support a state-imposed cap on local property tax rates that is high on the 85th Legislature's agenda.

Rep. Bryan Hughes, who becomes Sen. Hughes when the session begins Tuesday, said the bill that's upsetting city leaders statewide probably won't come out of the session the same way it went in.

"There will be some kind of legislation," Hughes told the audience at the Kilgore News Herald roundtable discussion. "But that doesn't mean it will look like that."

Senate Bill 2 cuts the so-called rollback rate in half, to 4 percent from 8 percent. That means, if the measure were signed into law as introduced, local governments would not be able to raise property taxes beyond 4 percent without first asking voters.

"It doesn't make sense to me," Clardy said, referring to the premise that lawmakers in Austin know what every city in the state needs to deliver services. "The water plan for East Texas looks a lot different from the (one for the) Trans-Pecos (in West Texas)."

Dean said the tax savings for homeowners would be negligible.

"They get nothing," he said. "That's what burns me. ... We're going to preach local control, whether you can adequately define it or not."

Clardy also was firm in opposition to school choice options the Legislature is likely to weigh, though he seemed to soften on vouchers and their cousins in the case of inner-city schools.

"There are urban areas where traditional education is not working," Clardy said. "You can't take money out of the public school arena and send it to other places without having a negative impact on public education. I will oppose anything that is going to harm the future of public education."

Vouchers are a pet project of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate and endorsed Hughes of Mineola in his Senate campaign.

Hughes said the overall question of how to fund public schools must be addressed.

"It's got to be fixed," he said. "To fix it is going to take money. ... As far as school choice, I haven't seen the details."

Dean arrived at the session after the voucher discussion but has consistently said the Legislature must first design a modern education web reflecting college and non-college career options. Then, he has said, lawmakers should look at what that costs.

All three men said a statewide ban on texting while driving makes more sense than cities statewide enacting bans piecemeal, as has happened while lawmakers have failed to act in previous sessions.

"I don't want different ordinances everywhere," Dean said. "But I think it's our job to assist cities, so you know what the law is when you're traveling."

Wednesday's discussion was arranged by the Kilgore News Herald.



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