What legislative wins should conservative Texans expect in the upcoming session?
A panel of conservative influencers and lawmakers participated in a pre-session briefing this week to look at issues the Republican-dominated legislature will tackle in 2019.
“The whole dynamic of the Texas Legislature will be exciting for conservatives,” said State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R–Plano), a member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Concerned Women for America of Texas hosted the panel that included Shaheen, State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood), Texas Eagle Forum President Tracye Bradford, and Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans. CWA’s Ann Hettinger moderated the event, held at Criswell College in Dallas.
All participants said they see opportunities to enact conservative priorities under new House leadership, starting with property tax reform.
Shaheen said property tax relief is the major issue Republican lawmakers will address next year. “The failure of a majority-Republican legislature to pass property tax reform is just a travesty,” Shaheen said, referring to unsuccessful attempts in 2017’s regular and special sessions to pass GOP-sponsored tax relief bills. Opposition from both Democrats and House Republicans allied with Speaker Joe Straus killed pro-taxpayer reforms that would have given local citizens more control over their property tax bills.
Funding public education complicates the property tax issue, and Shaheen believes this session there is a critical mass of lawmakers with incentive to change the broken system. He pointed to the “significant disparity in education outcomes” across Texas schools that must be addressed, and said the most vital part of a school’s success is the quality of the teachers. Shaheen called for merit-based pay for teachers, and added “we’re taking our eye off education” when districts choose to build big sports stadiums with school tax money.
Hall agreed with Shaheen that fixing education funding is a top priority, as it consumes the largest chunk of state spending and local property taxes. Hall said it’s something the state should be paying for, but “the only money the state has is what it takes from you.” If we put more money into education, he said, we have to take it from something else or find efficiencies in education spending.
Hall predicted school safety will also be a big issue, but said “we have to be very careful in how we address that.” Hall said eliminating gun-free zones takes away the common denominator in school shootings and doesn’t cost a dime.
In addition to property tax reform, Hall expects conservative victories on strengthening election integrity, limiting the use of toll roads, and banning red light cameras.
Bradford identified the state’s human trafficking epidemic and right of conscience protections as other key issues.
Sullivan said the single most pressing quality of life issue for Texans is the property tax problem, which burdens everyone from young families to retirees on fixed incomes. The problem is driven by local government spending, much of that on schools. “We’ve got to address the way we fund public education,” Sullivan said. “The question should not be how much do you want, but how much do we need for the outcome we want.”
Sullivan lauded the recent Texas Public Policy Foundation plan to eliminate the maintenance and operations (M&O) portion of Texas’ “Robin Hood” school property tax. TPPF’s plan calls for limiting government spending and using the savings to buy down local M&O taxes. By living within our means, the state could fully fund school M&O and lift a big burden off Texas property taxpayers.
Conservatives have cause for optimism this legislative session on property tax reform and other priority issues, but only if Texans are paying attention to what lawmakers are doing. “Elected officials are servants,” Sullivan said. “What we need are strongly engaged citizens as leaders.”
“This is critical stuff,” he concluded. “They’re debating your liberty.”