AUSTIN — Legislation approved by the House and Senate last week reveal widely differing views on how to bring about tax relief to Texans in fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

Speaker Joe Straus lauded the preliminary approval of House Bill 31, legislation to reduce the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5.95 percent, resulting in a $2.66 billion revenue decrease, and House Bill 32, legislation cutting the franchise tax paid by many businesses by 25 percent and resulting in a statewide revenue decrease of $2.56 billion. Both bills were written by House Ways and Means Chair Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, along with several members credited as coauthors.

The bills, in combination, are intended to provide a form of tax relief that would be insulated from the powers of local taxing entities and appraisal districts. Straus said the House “looks forward to a productive conversation with the Senate about how best to deliver results on this issue and the many others that matter to our economy and to Texas families.” 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, on the other hand, praised the Senate’s preliminary approval of Senate Bill 1760 authored by Freshman Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. “Sen. Creighton’s bill gives homeowners the ability to hold local government accountable for the demands they place on taxpayers,” Patrick said, and called the measure “another step in an overall plan to reduce property taxes for homeowners and businesses.”

SB 1760 would, if adopted by the House in its present form:

- Remove the requirement that taxpayers due a refund have to apply for it;

- Increase the interest rate on refunds due to taxpayers to 9.5 percent;

- Require local taxing entities to justify the necessity of a tax increase on notices and election ballots;

- Allow a court hearing an appraisal dispute to give preference to the testimony of an independent licensed appraiser;

- Require the state comptroller to compile and annually publish a ranked list of tax rates by entity; and 

- Require a local governmental body that wishes to exceed the effective tax rate to first have a vote of at least 60 percent of the governing body in support of the tax increase.

Bills aim to retool certification

Speaker Straus on April 27 welcomed the House’s passage of HB 6, HB 7 and House Joint Resolution 111, measures that work together toward undoing the state’s practice of using general revenue-dedicated balances for certifying other parts of the state budget.

“For more than two decades the state increasingly collected billions of dollars in fees for one purpose, but then used that money instead to certify spending in other areas of the budget,” Straus explained in a news release from his office. “The House began working to end that practice almost three years ago, and in the 2013 session, the Legislature reduced the use of dedicated funds for budget certification by nearly $1 billion. 

“This session, the House is well on its way to reducing that amount even further, from $4.5 billion to $2.9 billion. And if voters approve HJR 111, which the House passed today, we will end this practice altogether in the coming years.”

Senate approves ethics bill

On April 28, the Senate approved SB 19, an omnibus bill that includes multiple initiatives from the governor’s emergency item on ethics reform.

Written by freshman Sen. Van Taylor, R-Dallas, the bill expands personal financial statement reporting requirements for each state officer, elected official or candidate to include the disclosure of written contracts for goods or services with governmental entities if the aggregate value of those contracts exceeds $10,000 per reporting year.

SB 19 also contains various provisions to curb perceived conflicts of interest, such as a prohibition against a person who is registered as a lobbyist from serving in elective office unless that person is an elected officer for a political subdivision with a population of 150,000 or less, or the presiding officer of a political subdivision of 50,000 or less, provided they do not receive a salary or wage from the political subdivision. 

Texas to reciprocate with Ohio

Gov. Greg Abbott on April 28 issued an official proclamation that the state of Texas now recognizes valid concealed handgun licenses issued on or after March 23, 2015 by the state of Ohio as long as Ohio licensees comply with all Texas laws, rules and regulations governing the use and carrying of concealed handguns.