Schwertner looking to lower taxes in new legislative session

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By SEAN SHAPIRO

The 84th Texas State Legislature first convened last week, but things really didn’t start rolling until after newly-elected Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick were sworn in at the Capitol Tuesday.

“I think we’ll really get down to business after the inauguration,” said State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, on Monday. “We’ve got 140 days and hopefully we can get everything done in that time without any special sessions.”

The first thing on the list is creating and passing a state budget for the next two years.

This budget will shape Texas state law and spending for 2016 and 2017, it’s something that may seem simple, but will have a big impact on individual citizens.

“I believe it should be a fiscally responsible budget for the next two years,” Schwertner said. “I’d really like to see some tax relief for the homeowner. One thing I’ve consistently heard from my constituents is property taxes are too high.”

Taxes are on the forefront for Schwertner, who represents 10 counties, including Williamson County and Liberty Hill.

In addition to working for homeowners, Schwertner said he will be putting a big emphasis on small business owners and has written a bill that is intended to help with tax relief.

Right now franchise tax in Texas is paid for by a business owner, but there is an exemption for businesses that make $1 million or less in gross revenue. Schwertner’s bill would raise that number to $5 million.

“Any business having gross proceeds of $5 million or less would not be taxed the franchise tax,” Schwertner said. “It’s a significant benefit to the small business. It really cuts costs for small businesses in addition to taxes, I think $5 million is the proper number because once a business hits that growth they’ve often already started operating with some of those bigger-business costs, like a full-time CPA.”

Schwertner said there are 130,000 business that currently pay the franchise tax in Texas and his bill would help roughly 55 percent of them.

If taxes are a hot button issue, the education button is just as warm.

Multiple times during his campaign, Patrick spoke for vouchers that would help give lower-income families more options to send their children to private schools.

These vouchers would use public funds to help pay for some or all of a child’s private school education.

Vouchers are used in a handful of states, including Arizona, Colorado, Washington D.C., Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin, and they tend to be a controversial topic across the country.

The voucher proponents, like Patrick, contend that these programs provide opportunity for lower-income families who live within school systems that are failing or struggling.

It’s also sometimes pointed to as a way to promote public education by introducing more private school competition.

Others look at vouchers as an issue that siphons money away from public schools and contributes to the overall problem. They say some of those struggling schools have reached that status because of underfunding, and taking that money and giving it to a private institution that doesn’t have transparency or oversight is a mistake.

It’s certainly a hot-topic in 2015 and Schwertner is expecting it to be a heated debate.

“Every child should have the opportunity to have a great school-age education,” he said. “Now, there are many very different views of achieving that goal. We’ll have a very robust debate, I’m sure, and consider all options that should be allowed to help the families in our state.”

While he’s focused on education, Schwertner said he’s also looking at the health and wellbeing of children around the state as the chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

“We will look at reforming child protective services and taking care of those children that are in the care of the state,” he said. “It’s important that we look at these things all the time to make sure we are best serving them and continue making sure we’re keeping up high standards.”

The 140-day legislative session can seem like a long time, but Schwertner has the advantage of being able to sleep in his own bed each night after the long hours of debate. He lives in Georgetown and his sons, Carson, Zachary, and Matthew all attend schools in Liberty Hill ISD.

“It allows me to get re-oriented when I get home and come to church with my family,” he said. “When you’re in your microcosm of Austin, you kind of get uprooted and lose your focus for why you’re there sometimes. I get a great reminder when I get home and see my family.”

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