New session, new bills await Texas lawmakers

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86th legislature has big-ticket concerns crowding its docket

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New lawmakers for the 86th Texas Legislative Session were sworn in yesterday with a priorities list as diverse as the state. We hope the optimism of a new year and a new term bring out the best in our lawmakers. Voters statewide said loudly they wanted legislators to get past the partisan bickering and get some important things done.

Our State Sen. Dawn Buckingham and State Rep. Kyle Biedermann have announced a few of their legislative priorities for the new term. Their bills are some of the more than 10,000 bills and resolutions waiting as lawmakers try to cram in the January-to-May biennial session.

Legislators head to Austin as oil prices hover near the $50-per-barrel mark. Oil is a major source of revenue for Texas and it benefits when that market is between $60-$70 million. On Monday, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar pegged the next biennium’s funding at $119 billion.

Here are a few things we’d like to see prioritized:

Fix school funding

Austin must come to the reality that it needs to increase state funding for school districts. The pattern of cutting funding and letting local taxpayers take the hit need to end. A fair and equitable formula is needed to help poor districts, but stop the practice that sees Fredericksburg send $12 million of its annual budget back to Austin.

Amazingly, the state continues to blame local taxing entities for its own cuts in funding percentages. It wasn’t too long ago that the state paid 50-plus percent of school district funding, yet that is about 38 percent today. That needs to stop.

Local voters have the say when they feel taxes get out of control. The governor’s proposed property tax cap of 2.5 percent was a bad idea last session and it is a bad idea this time, as well. If that had been instituted in 2008, Fredericksburg would have had to deal with between $33 million and $38 million less in funding over the past decade.

Few districts in our state are shrinking in population, so it’s time for the state

to step up and accept the responsibility to adequately fund education for the state’s five million public school children. Teacher pay and retired teacher benefits also play into this, as both have been put on the back burner for many sessions.

Outgoing Republican Speaker of the House Joe Straus said the state should spend $5 billion from its rainy day fund on public education. For legislators, that number can surely start a conversation to improve funding in a major way.

Rainy Day Fund

And Texas has the $12 billion in its rainy day fund — the most in history. We liked Comptroller Hegar’s idea to invest part of it in safe market funds that can improve the return. Hegar told Gillespie County of these plans at the 2017 Farm Bureau meeting.

He also favors creating an endowment called the Texas Legacy Fund with the aim of earning three to four percent above inflation. Currently, the funds’ paltry earnings barely outpace inflation.

Eminent Domain

Legislators will be dealing with a realtime problem being played out right here in Gillespie County.

When private entities (or governments) decide they want a project that affects private properties, they currently can lowball, divide-and-conquer, then condemn the property of Texas families.

Oil is important to our state economy, but a carte blanche check to the industry is just not right.

Other things to consider:

Gasoline tax — Highway projects in growing Gillespie County need attention. And every other county is in the same boat. After nearly 30 years, it’s time for Texans to consider a bump up in the state gasoline tax, which funds roads. This is a busy state and our infrastructure needs to accommodate all the commerce and traveling.

State parks — A proposed change to the state constitution by State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) will make sure all of the money from the sporting goods tax goes to its intended funding targets of state parks and historic sites. “When disasters strike, Texans shouldn’t have to wait weeks or months to gain entrance into these Texas treasures,” Kolkhorst said.

Early childhood care/education — Any help the state could provide to assist a head start for young children and affordable child care options for young parents would be helpful. Child care is an acute problem in our local market. Addressing it is one key to being able to continue to find employees. – K.E.C.

We would like to hear our readers’ top priorities. Email fbgnews@fredericksburgstandard.com