Schwertner addresses Chamber members about legislative work
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
As the guest for the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce September Lunch & Learn, State Sen. Charles Schwertner provided a brief overview of the 86th Legislative session.
He touched on a variety of topics, but focused on what he said were two key issues where progress was made.
“This was a very significant session,” Schwertner said. “Of the five sessions I’ve been involved in, this was probably the most substantial session because it stresses two major issues that effect the majority of Texans – schools and property tax.”
With the passage of House Bill 3, Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said the Legislature addressed a number of important issues, beginning with where education funds come from.
“There’s a certain amount of money provided per child, called the basic allotment, and the State of Texas – from a percentage standpoint – had gotten down to about 38 percent of the overall cost being funded by the state,” he said. “There were those, and I agree, that said the state contribution to schools was diminishing and needed to be enhanced and we did that this last session.”
The increase in the basic allotment was another key component.
“The basic allotment went from $5,140 to $6,160, which is a 20 percent increase,” Schwertner said. “That’s a significant jolt in the arm of our public schools, LHISD for instance, for each child enrolled. Schools are tough because all the thousand school districts across the state have different challenges. Just to give you an idea, the percentage of children coming from economically disadvantaged families in the State of Texas is over 58.6 percent. At LHISD, it’s less than 20 percent.”
Not only does the percentage of economically disadvantaged students vary across the state, but Texas also has to work with a large number of English language learners.
“In addition, the children that are English language learners in the State of Texas in our public schools is 18.8 percent,” he said. “One in five children currently entering school in Texas does not have English as their primary language so if you’re learning English and are that far behind it is very difficult.”
Factors like those make it a challenge to meet every need across the state.
“They all have their own distinct and individual challenges that have to be addressed in a wholistic manner at the State Capital by a bunch of competing interests,” he said.
The most notable addition to school funding for most Texans was money put into the budget for teacher raises.
“In addition to the increase in the basic allotment, we gave money to the school districts to increase their teacher pay about $4,200, but we gave some leeway based upon the school districts and the various school boards deciding exactly how to implement that,” Schwertner said. “In general, I think most school districts put in place a pretty significant pay raise for the majority of teachers and I’m very proud of that.”
The other issue of constant focus and discussion through the last session was property tax relief.
“We’re one of the highest property tax states in the nation, I think the fifth highest in the nation,” he said. “Property taxes are how we fund local government. The overall property tax burden has grown at about 7 percent a year, but our incomes are not growing at 7 percent. The majority of people are getting an income increase of about 2.5 to 3 percent. You can see how over 20 to 30 years that has priced people out of their homes.”
Schwertner was proud of the Legislature’s ability to add funding to school districts and also reduce the burden on taxpayers.
To address rising tax bills, the Legislature lowered the percentage local governments would be allowed to raise tax rates before triggering a rollback election.
“We changed that to 3.5 percent with an automatic rollback election,” Schwertner said. “If a city wanted to put in infrastructure and had a great plan and wanted to sell it, but it was going to take a 20 percent tax increase, even on top of your appraisal increase, right now you’d have to do it at 8 percent, and then your constituency would have to have a rollback election if they wanted to stop it. There are pluses and minuses, and people who never want any tax increase for any infrastructure, then there’s people who want to tax and tax and tax and spend, based on what a city council, commissioners court or board decide.”
The property tax relief effort was two-pronged, intended to lessen the burden and slow the future rate of growth as well.
“We did, both through HB3 and SB2, giving a property tax cut of over $5 billion which equates to over $250 or so for a $200,000 valuation of your home,” Schwertner said. “That’s a cut, then we’re going to slow the rate of growth.”
As another way to assist property owners as they navigate taxes, Schwertner said the Legislature changed some of the rules for appraisal districts.
“Finally, we did work on appraisals, which was not well publicized,” he said. “The transparency, and the ability to go before a review board and challenge your appraisals is something that a lot of people have had frustration with. There are lots of reforms about uniformity across county lines and appraisal districts, then the transparency with putting it on the website, just what I would call fairness for the taxpayers.”