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Opinion: Top issues remain in play as Legislature enters final month

by | May 2, 2019 | Opinion

Only a month is left for lawmakers to get the state’s business done in the 86th regular session of the Texas Legislature.

Still unfinished are the issues at the top of a list shared by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen: the passage of a state budget for fiscal years 2020-2021, property tax reform and school finance reform.

Last week, a conference committee of 10 House and Senate budget writers began negotiations over the two chambers’ budget bills. While the negotiators have agreed on $9 billion to spend on property tax relief and education finance reform, the two versions are about $400 million apart on state revenue spending and $3.2 billion apart, out of a total of about $250 billion in all funds, according to the Senate News Service. “This process is made easier by the fact that both chambers are prioritizing three key issues: that’s certainly property tax relief, education reform and teacher salary,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “The good news,” she added, “is that both chambers have demonstrated their commitment to our top priorities.”

Any differences in the House and Senate budgets must be resolved before a final version can be presented for an up or down vote in each chamber before the session ends on its 140th day — Monday, May 27.

Web sales tax bills move

Legislation that would allow Texas to collect sales tax from remote sellers in accordance with the 2018 South Dakota v. Wayfair decision from the U.S. Supreme Court advanced last week.

The Senate Finance Committee on April 24 approved SB 70 and SB 890, both authored by Sen. Nelson, and two companion bills, HB 2153 and HB 1525, authored by House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock.

“This legislation paves the way for Texas to fairly collect online sales tax within the parameters outlined by the Supreme Court,” Nelson said. “These bills ensure that no undue burdens are placed on remote sellers.”

SB 70/HB 2153 would allow for the establishment of a single local use tax to avoid placing an undue burden on remote sellers. The comptroller’s office projects that the change would generate $300 million over the next fiscal biennium.

SB 890/HB 1525 would allow marketplace vendors to collect sales tax from third-party remote sellers. The comptroller’s office projects that the change would generate $550 million in the next two-year budget period.

Time change bill moves
Should Texas do away with “falling back” in November and “springing forward” in March and instead keep clocks on Standard Time or Daylight Saving Time year-round?

On April 23 the Texas House approved, on a vote of 133-9, a measure that would put the question to Texans in the form of a constitutional amendment on the November 5 ballot.

The measure, House Joint Resolution 117 by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, now moves to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate also approves and a statewide ballot measure passes, Congress still would have to amend the Uniform Time Act of 1966 before Texas could stop springing forward and falling back.

“The process of changing our clocks twice each year is primitive and illogical,” said Larson. “Time is a human construct. With the passage of this resolution, Texans can decide which time to stick with. We could maintain our sleep schedules, feeling healthier and happier as a result. We could end a senseless practice that has many drawbacks and very few, if any, positive aspects.”

Opponents of HJR 117 cited concerns such as safety issues, confusion in scheduling and breaking with tradition.

Jobless rate remains low
The Texas Workforce Commission on April 19 reported the Lone Star State added 22,600 seasonally adjusted non-farm positions in March. The state’s unemployment rate stayed at 3.8 percent.

Commission figures also show March marked the 107th consecutive month of annual growth for total non-farm employment. The month proved to be historically significant for the Texas economy, as the civilian labor force reached a record high of more than 14 million workers.

“Texas’ economic miracle is a testament to the unmatched innovation of our Texas employers and their dedication to creating jobs and investing in communities across the state,” said TWC Chair Ruth Ruggero Hughs.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, the Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area had the lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs in March with a non-seasonally adjusted rate of 2.1 percent, followed by the Odessa MSA with 2.5 percent. Tying for third were the Amarillo, Austin-Round Rock and College Station-Bryan MSAs with 2.7 percent unemployment.

Ed Sterling is the member services director for the Texas Press Association. His column is a weekly aggregation of news about the state’s government.

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