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By: Kathy Rollo
Andrew Welch is a teacher with fewer than three years experience in the classroom. He writes he has good and bad days, that it’s a humbling experience, and his confidence is often tested. These are not surprising reactions considering the pressure teachers face to educate our next generation of producers and leaders. What is surprising is Andrew is in his second career. He had another high-pressure job before transferring his skills to the classroom — he was a police officer for 32 years.
How interesting that a career policeman considers teaching just as stressful as maintaining law and order. The skill sets for both professions have many similarities. Teachers and police officers must have the ability to remain calm under pressure, communicate effectively, and have the power of persuasion.
There is also a significant difference in the compensation for these professions. In Texas, the average teacher salary is $57,000 while police officers on average earn about $62,500 per year. Believe me, police officers earn every penny and then some. Teachers do, too. That’s why I’m elated that the 86th Texas Legislative Session adopted the Texas Plan for school finance reform.
So these are the headlines from this compromise plan between the Texas House and Senate. The state will infuse about $4.5 billion into the classrooms to accelerate student achievement. That’s a significant increase to the basic allotment per child. The state currently allots base funding of $5,140 per student. The Texas Plan will increase that number to $6,160, a 20 percent increase. It will cover the cost for full-day prekindergarten for economically disadvantaged students and adopts higher reading standards so students are reading at grade level by third grade.
Teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses will get a much deserved salary increase with priority given to educators with five years or more experience. The more than $2 billion increase gives the school districts flexibility on how to offer these salary increases. It also creates a merit/incentive plan for high-quality teachers to receive additional pay. It invests in professional development and mentoring programs so more educators can attain a high-quality status and school districts can retain them.
The state is increasing its share of the school finance requirements to lower your property taxes. Currently the state shoulders a 38 percent share; it’s increasing to 45 percent. That’s more than $5 billion in property tax relief. It also ensures taxpayer dollars are used wisely, requiring efficiency audits before districts can go to the voters with a tax increase.
The current school finance system is being modernized, lowering the recapture payments, improving equity, and allowing districts to keep more of the money earned from local property taxes.
I’m thankful for the hard work and sense of responsibility that went into crafting this reform. Senator Charles Perry and Representatives Dustin Burrows, John Frullo, and Ken King played significant roles in making this happen and safeguarding the interests of Lubbock ISD and all school districts in our region.
The hard work is well underway for the Lubbock ISD finance team, led by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Baum, to develop a budget for the 2019-2020 school year that conforms to the mandates of the Texas Plan. It’s an intense and time-sensitive undertaking because those numbers have to be calculated in time for the Lubbock ISD Board of Trustees to adopt an efficient and viable budget. The budget will be presented June 20.
The message has been sent that educators like Andrew Welch are appreciated and admired. They will be better compensated for their dedication and passion to teach your children. The Texas Plan is not perfect, but it is an honest and good faith effort to make significant improvements to how our children are educated and reward those who are charged with that sacred duty.
Although the Texas Legislature has yet to put the finishing touches on the budget for the next two years and forward it to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature, it is important to take time and recognize the efforts of the West Texas delegation for yeoman advocacy on behalf of the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine.
Some of the best news of the session, as far as West Texans are concerned, broke late more than a week ago with the announcement that the budget included a $17.4 million appropriation for the vet school for the 2020-2021 funding cycle. There had been some angst, albeit little appearing in public view, over the House originally appropriating $17.4 million and the Senate version including roughly $4 million.
A conference committee hammered out budget differences with the larger number prevailing in the final version that is expected to be sent to the governor for approval before the session ends Monday.
That the state needs a second vet school is a undeniable. The reasons have been articulated in this space several times since the session launched in January. The need is pronounced. The Texas Tech approach will be novel and effective.
Much of the credit for the original vision casting of a Tech vet school must go to former Texas Tech System Chancellor Robert Duncan, current Chancellor Tedd Mitchell and TTU President Lawrence Schovanec, and each would be quick to share credit with an array of elected, civic and effective leaders in Amarillo, Lubbock and certainly Austin.
To its credit, Texas Tech has never made pursuit of a vet school a competition with Texas A&M, home of the state’s only current vet school. Tech leaders have repeatedly praised A&M’s impressive track record of excellence – as they have repeatedly said there is room for a second school. The school’s sensible, restrained and logical approach to a statewide challenge has served it well.
Tech officials have simply laid out the facts and let the numbers do the talking. It should not be lost on people that the school’s desire to serve all of West Texas is an important piece of the vet school narrative. Just as the Texas Tech University HSC has an expansive footprint across the region, so also will the vet school serve an entire region while having impact upon an entire state.
It is fair to say the vet school has been the top priority of the region’s legislative delegation, and they have kept their eye on the ball throughout. A large contingent issued a joint statement after the budget allocation became public.
In a moment where someone might be tempted to claim outsized credit in a moment of political theater, the statement was attributed to State Sens. Charles Perry of Lubbock; Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Jose Rodriguez of Amarillo. Also part of the extensive communique were State Reps. Four Price and John Smithee of Amarillo, Dustin Burrows and John Frullo of Lubbock, Ken King of Canadian, Drew Springer of Muenster and Drew Darby of San Angelo.
“The Legislature has always recognized the value of robust and competitive university systems to meet the needs of a growing state that has an integral role in the success of our nation and global economy,” the statement began as it was reported in our story.
“The Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine will help address the shortage of large and mixed animal veterinarians in rural parts of the state. The addition of a second veterinary school will enhance the ability to meet the demand for a growing population and secure the food supply.”
In addition to the work of Duncan, Mitchell and Schovanec, lawmakers also recognized the efforts of former chancellor Kent Hance as well as “fellow legislators and thousands of others who supported the vet school,” according to our story.
Make no mistake, this was a historic moment for Texas Tech and for the entire state. According to statistics, there are only 180 large-animal veterinarians serving rural Texas counties – that’s 3 percent of the state’s registered veterinarians. From day one, Tech has emphasized focusing its program on this huge gap, using what it calls a distributive model as opposed to on-site education, meaning veterinarians will partner with the school in a variety of creative ways.
There are still steps ahead, but receiving this important legislative financial stamp of approval marks a milestone development in a dream that has been years in the making. A regular mantra over the past couple of months has been the lawmakers’ insistence that interested constituencies trust the process. That meant being confident in elected leaders not only doing their job in representing the region’s interests, but to also navigate political contours, challenges and outright opposition associated with efforts to bring a second vet school online.
We salute the local delegation for its leadership in this matter and for its ability to build consensus with colleagues in both chambers, making sure others saw the vet school not as some prized parochial possession, but instead as an incubator of innovation that would have transformational impact across the state.
The future of Texas Tech and the Lone Star State is brighter because of those efforts.
By: Mike Hailey
The biennial Capitol Inside analysis of clout at the statehouse this year is a tale of two chambers with Republican leaders who are diametric opposites and a classic study in the spoils of victory and the wages of defeat in the game of thrones inside the Austin beltway.
But the lawmaker who’s made the longest leap of all power ladder is State Rep. Dustin Burrows- a Lubbock Republican who’d been one of Bonnen’s most instrumental original supporters as the party caucus chief in the House where he’s the point person on property taxes in his debut session as the Ways & Means Committee chairman. Burrows committee leadership post came complete with seats on the Legislative Budget Board and the Legislative Audit Committee.
Read the full story here: Mike Hailey’s Capitol Inside: Big Leaps and Long Falls in House with Blue Shade
With support from State Representative Dustin R. Burrows (HD83) the Texas House of Representatives today passed a series of bills to rebuild communities, strengthen infrastructure, mitigate flooding and ensure the State of Texas is better prepared to respond to future natural disasters.
“Today’s legislation fulfills a majority of the recommendations made by the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas and addresses the critical issues coastal Texans have faced in the months since Hurricane Harvey made landfall,” said Representative Burrows.
The emergency response package includes:
House Bill 5 – Addressing Debris Removal and Management
One of the most difficult challenges the state and local jurisdictions faced during the recovery after Hurricane Harvey was debris removal. House Bill 5 directs the Texas Department of Emergency management (TDEM) to create a catastrophic debris management plan for local use as well as improving contracting for debris removal. Establishing a debris management plan allows local communities to deliver quicker responses. Additionally, this simplifies the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursing process.
House Bill 6 – Specialized Assistance for Individuals and Communities
Recovery efforts were identified as the weakest phase of the emergency management cycle in Texas. House Bill 6 would task TDEM with developing a Disaster Recovery Task Force to provide specialized assistance to support those with financial issues as well as federal assistance programs. The Task Force would also focus on recovery and resiliency planning to streamline and expedite recovery at the local level. The Task Force would operate from the beginning of a disaster through the long-term recovery period which would provide significant support for smaller communities. The mission of the Task Force is to strengthen recovery functions while utilizing resources of institutions of higher education, state agencies and organized volunteer groups.
House Bill 13 – Flood Infrastructure Fund
After a major flooding event like Hurricane Harvey, federal funds are appropriated to the state for mitigation projects. However, many counties and cities aren’t able to provide the 35% of local matching funds, which is why House Bill 13 creates the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF). FIF is a statewide cooperative effort for regional flood planning, mitigation and infrastructure projects to make Texas “future-proof”.
House Joint Resolution 4
Proposes a constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the Flood Infrastructure Fund to assist in the financing of drainage, flood mitigation and flood control projects.
Ten additional bills were passed to directly address the recommendations made by the Commission to Rebuild Texas, including, HB 2305, HB 2310, HB 2315, HB 2320, HB 2325, HB 2330, HB 2335, HB 2340, HB 2345 and HB 2708.
Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen today released the following joint statement:
“Texans are fed up with skyrocketing property taxes. At the beginning of the legislative session, the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker laid out an agenda for property tax relief through the passage of Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2 to limit property tax growth. In addition to that effort, today we are introducing a sales tax proposal to buy down property tax rates for all Texas homeowners and businesses, once Senate Bill 2 or House Bill 2 is agreed to and passed by both Chambers. If the one-cent increase in the sales tax passes, it will result in billions of dollars in revenue to help drive down property taxes in the short and long term.”
Application deadline is June 3 for family farms and ranches started in 1919 or earlier
Today, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller invited Texas farmers and ranchers to apply for the Texas Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) Family Land Heritage (FLH) program, which since 1974 has paid tribute to families who have kept their land in continuous agricultural production for at least 100 years. Families are asked to submit their applications for recognition in the 2019 FLH registry by Monday, June 3. At the 44th annual recognition ceremony at the Texas Capitol this fall, Commissioner Miller will honor farms and ranches established in 1919 or earlier.
“Buried deep in the roots of our great state lays a rich agriculture heritage from the farmers and ranchers who came before us,” Commissioner Miller said. “The Texas Department of Agriculture Family Land Heritage program acknowledges Texas families who have paved the way by dedicating their lives to agriculture. Family farms and ranches are the cornerstone to the success of our state’s agriculture industry, and without them agriculture would not be the powerhouse that today drives a $110 billion Texas industry.”
To be eligible, farms and ranches must be owned and operated by the descendants of the founder, either through blood, marriage or adoption. At least 10 acres of the land must have been in continuous agricultural production for the past 100 years or more.
“As an eighth-generation farmer and rancher, I am honored to recognize the men and women who fought to help Texas agriculture flourish, and I encourage future generations to follow their lead in continuing to keep our agricultural legacy alive,” Commissioner Miller said.
To date, TDA has recognized more than 5,000 farms and ranches, including 228 for 150 years of operation. Seven ranches have been honored for 200 years of operation. There is no cost to apply.
By: Shannon Najmabadi
City mayors extended an olive branch. Witnesses spoke uninterrupted. A House Democrat said he appreciated the “frame and tone” set by a GOP chair.
When the Legislature’s priority property tax reform bill was rolled out by a House committee Wednesday, it was met with a tenor and pace that differed markedly from the more contentious proceedings in the Senate.
Absent the quick tempo and heated exchanges that marked the upper chamber’s committee hearings on the legislation, a panel of state representatives deliberated its bill for nearly 12 hours, taking expert and public comments without proposing amendments. The proceedings were the latest sign of the lower chamber’s approach to the priority property tax package — which the chair of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee said they would “fully understand before we get into the debate and discussion.”
That, he said, “is how we have discussions in the Texas House.”
During the Senate committee’s proceedings, public testimony was largely limited to two minutes — a strategy designed to allow everyone who wished to testify the opportunity to do so, according to the office of state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, chair of the committee.
As the Ways and Means Committee meeting wore on Wednesday, some witnesses complained that homeowners hadn’t been called until well into the evening and that many had departed before their turn came.
But the thorough approach was set early in the day by committee Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, the committee chair who began proceedings on the reform bill by saying he hoped the 11-member panel would hear comments and “talk about ideas that can make the bill better in either direction.”
After, “the committee can collaborate and can work and try to come up with a bill that is right,” he said. “[We’re] not just trying to get something across the finish line as quick as we can.”
The Senate tax committee passed its version of the property tax reform bill, with amendments, earlier this month. It has not yet been debated by the full upper chamber. As drafted, both versions of the legislation would require that cities, counties and special taxing districts receive voter approval before increasing property tax revenues 2.5 percent more than the previous year. Revenue from new developments would not count toward the 2.5 percent threshold.
Burrows seemed open to other rates Wednesday, but he explained why he filed the bill at 2.5 percent.
“If property taxes continue to go up year after year at 8 percent, they will double in nine years,” he said. “At 4 percent, it takes now 17 years to double, 35 to quadruple. And at 2.5 percent, it takes 28 years for somebody’s property taxes to double, and 56 years for them to quadruple.”
An election trigger could be tied to a price or wage index — or based on “simple math,” Burrows said.
Currently, voters can petition to have an election if revenue growth surpasses 8 percent, a figure supporters of the legislation say was set during a period of high inflation in the 1980s.
The reforms are a big-ticket item for state leaders. Though they are unlikely to reduce individual tax bills — a concern for residents who say their incomes have not kept pace with rising property values — they could tamp down the rate of a jurisdiction’s property tax revenue growth.
The legislation also proposes a battery of modifications to how properties are appraised, with an aim of making the process more transparent and less subjective.
Still, as Burrows noted Wednesday, the 2.5 percent election trigger has “captured most of the headlines,” and several witnesses were asked Wednesday to help identify a more palatable number.
“Do you think 8 percent is where it ought to be, or do you think it should be lower?” Burrows asked Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson.
“I think we’re engaging in that conversation with you guys,” she responded, listing a number of factors she thought should be taken into account.
Two dozen big-city mayors proposed using a formula to tailor the trigger to each jurisdiction, in a letter to the committee chair dated Feb. 26. Six mayors testified on behalf of the group, stressing they were remarking “on” the bill — a neutral position — not against it.
Bettencourt noted a new attitude coming from mayors Thursday.
“The Mayors came in with solutions this time because they just said NO last time,” he said. “That’s progress.”
Despite the generally placid tone Wednesday, the hearing exposed some of the party-line fissures that have animated the property tax reform effort so far. Mayors were questioned by GOP lawmakers about why having an election trigger would force them to cut their budgets. Municipal leaders said population growth and unfunded mandates were tying their hands. And many homeowners, who supported a trigger at 2.5 percent, spoke of their difficulty paying rising tax bills on top of other expenses.
Near 11 p.m., the Speaker of the House, Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, walked through the hearing room to greet lawmakers and watch the proceedings.
In 2017, property tax proposals left the House and Senate at an impasse during both the regular and special sessions. The lower chamber proposed that an election be triggered at 6 percent revenue growth, while the upper chamber pushed for 4 percent.
In a move Bettencourt has jokingly called a “compromise,” Gov. Greg Abbott pitched a 2.5 percent rate in advance of the 2019 session. A poll from Quinnipiac University, released this week, found voters largely supported the idea of requiring local governments to get voter approval before “increasing property taxes” more than 2.5 percent.
Still, lawmakers’ public support for the 2.5 percent threshold has appeared to wane. Republicans have cast the figure as a starting point. Prominent Democrats on the committee — state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin — have said the figure is a non-starter.
“For the number now to shift downward by a point and a half to 2.5,” Martinez Fischer said, “my natural reaction and response to that is, ‘Well, my 6 becomes 7.5.’”
And a major component of the reform package has yet to be unveiled. The bulk of property taxes statewide are levied by school districts, with state dollars flowing in after local revenue has been accounted for. The property tax reform proposal has inserted placeholder language for schools, as lawmakers’ wait on sprawling public education bills to be filed.
Martinez Fischer, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, said of the lower chamber’s approach: “we don’t care about getting it done first; we care about getting it done right.”
“Everybody seems to want to live this policy through the lens of 2017,” he said. “I take the mayors at their word that they’re going to work hard, they’re going to come up with a collective solution. I take the chairman at his word that he wants our input and is hoping to make this bill better.”
Members of the House Committee on Ways and Means listen to testimony on HB 2 on Feb. 27, 2019. Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune
By: Asher Price
The head of a Texas House committee overseeing marquee GOP legislation to constrain property tax increases said Wednesday that he was open to shifting the bill in whatever direction gets it “right.”
Hoping to “make the bill better in either direction,” state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and author of the proposal, said he thinks the “committee can collaborate to get something that’s right — not just get something across the finish line as quick as we can.”
That ecumenical approach included, perhaps, an implicit swipe at the Senate Property Tax Committee, which hustled its version of property tax legislation out the door earlier this month by a 4-0 vote, with the committee’s sole Democrat abstaining. That bill has yet to reach a vote on the Senate floor with opposition from a key Republican senator.
The decision by Burrows to opt for a slower rollout in the House reflects the broader posture of the Texas House — the more closely divided chamber — to more closely wed property tax legislation with school financing.
“They work in tandem, they’re married,” Burrows said.
House Bill 2 would require taxing districts with $15 million or more in combined property and sales tax revenue to obtain voter approval for property tax increases that lead to collections more than 2.5 percent higher than those in the previous year, not including new property on the appraisal rolls.
Currently, state law allows local governments to collect 8 percent more in property tax revenue before they can be forced by petition to hold an election. Local officials have said the tax proposals would hamstring their ability to provide everything from emergency services to park maintenance.
The House two years ago approved a 6 percent property tax cap 105-41, with most Democrats opposing it. The Senate approved a 4 percent cap in 2017. But leaders of the two chambers couldn’t reach a compromise and both measures failed to reach Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
This year, Democrats hold 12 more House seats, and they have said they want to focus on sending more state money to schools. And some rural Republicans have suggested the 2.5 percent cap is too restrictive.
The Senate has taken much the same approach as last time around, acting swiftly and forcefully.
During a contentious hearing, Senate Property Tax Committee Chairman Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, tweaked some of the witnesses at his committee’s hearing, asking local officials why they were against property tax relief for their constituents. The mayor of McKinney, the county seat of conservative Collin County, accused him at one point of taking cheap shots from the dais.
Back-and-forth with local officials was far less prickly for the House committee on Wednesday, with Burrows asking people like Ginger Nelson, the mayor of Amarillo, whether she thought the rollback rate ought to be 8 percent — or closer to the 2.5 percent in his bill.
She told him she had to mull over more closely the consequences of different tax rate constraints.
And the hearing simply moved on to the next witness.
“My sincerest hope is that we get ideas from all across the spectrum to deliberate on,” Burrows said at one point. “My goal is to work with all the members of the committee to try to see what we can sort out.”
Burrows got praise at the outset of the hearing — which had at least 130 people sign up to testify, ranging from taxpayers angry about their property tax bills to mayors suggesting property tax restraints could harm their public safety budgets — from state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, for having an open mind to talk about property tax matters.
The wonky tone was set early on with lengthy testimony by Dale Craymer, head of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association.
Craymer said his group was neutral on the bill.
As far as transparency and simplifying of tax bills and appraisal valuations, the “body of this bill is more far-reaching than anything we have had the opportunity to work on before,” he said.
But his group was not endorsing the bill as written because “we think that (the 2.5 percent rollback rate) is probably too low. It’s appropriate to give (taxing) jurisdictions more flexibility than that.”