WEEK IN REVIEW
LAWMAKERS BEGIN BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS
(AUSTIN) — With just over a month left in the 88th Regular Session, the Conference Committee on HB1, the budget, held its first public meeting as legislators begin the work of aligning the House and Senate spending plans. Led by Senate Finance Committee Chair and Houston Senator Joan Huffman and House Appropriations Chair Representative Greg Bonnen of Friendswood, the two promised a friendly process that will result in a budget that works for the state. "We have many, many shared priorities, big important issues that we need to resolve for the state of Texas," said Huffman. "We have a great group here that I'm certain will be able to work through these issues and come up with a fabulous budget that's great for Texas." While the two proposals are very close in terms of actual numbers, the major obstacle to an agreement will be how to deliver $15 billion worth of property tax cuts.
Senator Paul Bettencourt's bill would impose harsher penalties on illegal street racers.
The House plan would accomplish this by lowering appraisal caps, limiting the amount that real property can increase in value year-to-year to five percent, down from a current cap of ten percent. The Senate would get there by raising the homestead exemption, the amount of value a homeowner can deduct from the assessed value, from $40,000 to $70,000. It also raises the additional exemption for Texas homeowners aged 65 and older to $30,000, for a cumulative exemption of $100,000 annually for seniors. Both chambers strongly backed their budgets as they passed, indicating staunch support for their respective plans. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, however, has said that appraisal caps won't fly in the Senate. Because the Legislature capped local revenue growth at 3.5 percent in 2019, he said it doesn't matter how much appraisal values go up, because local leaders will have to lower the tax rate in order to stay under that revenue growth cap - or go to the voters to approve a rate higher than 3.5 percent. The House plan, said Patrick, is operating from a faulty premise. "It's just the math, and the math doesn't work on appraisal caps," he said. "We will not pass those." House and Senate negotiators have until Memorial Day to present a compromise plan that can satisfy both the leadership and membership of each chamber.
Also this week, the Senate approved a bill that would prohibit the representatives of hostile foreign governments from buying large tracts of agricultural, mining, timber, or oil and gas land. Author and Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst said that her constituents have come to her with concerns that foreign interests with unknown intentions are buying up land in Texas. "Private property rights are extremely important to maintaining liberty," she said. "Unfortunately, some of the authoritarian regimes that pose a threat to the United States do not respect private property rights and are willing to use these rights to undermine our constitutional republic." Her bill would prohibit representatives of any hostile foreign nation from buying these parcels. Nations would be considered hostile if they appear for three years in a row on the U.S. intelligence services Annual Threat Assessment; right now, that would apply to Iran, China, North Korea, and Russia. It does not prohibit any legally present resident from buying land or from buying a home or a business. "It keeps alive the American dream of home ownership to all, the ability to own a business, the ability to own a homestead and 20 acres, the ability of anyone that's legally here in the United States to own that land and live that dream," said Kolkhorst.
Thursday, the Senate passed a bill aimed at illegal street racing. Occurring with increasing frequency in some of the state's larger cities, this involves large groups of young racers with souped up automobiles "taking over" intersections at night and driving recklessly fast and without regard for personal safety. Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt says his hometown prosecuted more than 1,000 people for street racing in 2022. His bill, SB 1970, would allow law enforcement to seize any vehicle used in reckless street racing or other exhibition on the state's highways.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 1 at 11 a.m.