February 13, 2007
Will the spending cap be punted to the voters?

Catching up on an item from last week, the Senate moved closer to passing a constitutional amendment that would permanently remove buying down local taxes from spending cap calculations.

Despite complaints that they're trying to pass the buck to voters, Senate budget writers moved ahead Wednesday on a proposed constitutional amendment to exempt expenditures for local tax relief from a state spending cap.

Senate Joint Resolution 13, as approved by the Senate Finance Committee, also would ensure that older Texans get the full benefit of lower property tax rates. If approved by two-thirds of lawmakers by the end of this month, the resolution would go on a statewide ballot in May.

Activists for older Texans have protested linking the two ideas, with the AARP suggesting seniors are being used as "political human shields" in the fight to break the spending cap. A constitutional change is needed for older Texans, whose property taxes already are frozen, to get the same level of tax relief as other homeowners.

The measure passed pretty easily out of committee, but it's unclear to me what its fate will be in the full Senate. A unanimous No vote from Democrats would be enough to kill it, since as an amendment it needs a 2/3 vote to pass. There's also Sen. Patrick, whose criteria for a Yea vote have not been met. But even if it makes it through the Senate, there's already indicators that it won't pass the House. DallasBlog reported the following statement from House Democratic Caucus chair Jim Dunnam.

"I find it incredible that any member of the Legislature would vote to bust the state spending cap without first seeing a real budget," Dunnam said. "We are in this position because of the irresponsible fiscal policies of Governor Rick Perry and Tom Craddick and four years of budgeting that created this crisis. Busting the state spending cap without first seeing a budget simply gives them another blank check to continue their gross fiscal mismanagement of our state. I agree with the AARP that it is wrong to hold our seniors hostage. We should immediately vote to give Texas seniors the property tax relief they deserve, then separately debate the issue of busting the state spending cap on its own merits. We should have all the information before taking the unprecedented step of authorizing excess spending."

Blocking this in the Senate may take a high level of unity, but in the House it'll require only the anti-Craddick Dems to stick together, and that's assuming no Republicans have any qualms about this approach. At this point, I am hopeful that we'll wind up with a straight up-or-down vote in each chamber to suspend the cap for this specific purpose. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Burka has more on this. The House appears to be prepared to de-couple the tax breaks for seniors from the spending cap. Click on for a statement from Rep. Pete Gallego about that.

Statement from State Rep. Pete Gallego on HJR 1 ~House Democrats Work to Provide Tax Relief for Seniors and Disabled Texans~

"I appreciate Jim Keffer setting HJR 1 for a public hearing tomorrow and accommodating my request to move this resolution instead of the more problematic alternative. The vast majority of members want to expeditiously give senior citizens and the disabled the same tax relief given to all other Texans last year. This is a great way to show all Texans that Democrats and Republicans are working together to provide our elderly and disabled with the property tax relief they were promised."

Background and History

Last week, the Senate opted to entangle their proposed constitutional amendment regarding tax relief for seniors with language used to justify busting the state's spending cap for the first time in history. Over the weekend, Speaker Craddick embraced the same problematic idea, despite the fact that many members believe that any discussion of busting the state spending cap is premature until a proposed state budget is available for review.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) was dead on when they said "it's wrong to hold tax cuts for seniors hostage to the spending cap issue." The umbrella of giving senior citizens the tax break they have earned should not be used to provide cover for busting the spending cap, especially when the specific expenditures (and amounts of those expenditures) for which the cap is to be busted are unknown.

Yesterday, State Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) sent a letter to Speaker Craddick asking that HJR 1 be brought to the floor as a stand-alone measure. HJR 1 had not even been set for hearing prior to Rep. Gallego's letter - only HJR 60, which coupled the senior citizen tax relief with busting the spending cap - had been filed. Today, Rep. Gallego asked a series of parliamentary inquires on this same topic.

Immediately after Rep. Gallego concluded his inquiries regarding the need to get HJR 1 to the floor, Chairman Keffer moved to suspend all necessary rules so that his House Committee on Ways and Means could hear HJR 1 in committee tomorrow.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 13, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo

If Dewhurst had the votes, SJR 13 would have been on the floor today. Instead, nothing happened in the Senate and in the House they suddenly posted HJR 1 (a clean over-65 fix with no complicating spending cap provisions) for a hearing tomorrow (Wednesday). Now would be a good time to let your local legislator know that HJR 1 is the way to go. The Legislature should vote on the spending cap themselves and not pass the buck to the voters.

Posted by: David Siegel on February 13, 2007 12:00 PM

It should also be noted that in addition to HJR 1, HJR 60 by Chisum is scheduled for committee tommorrow (Wednesday). HJR 60 is the companion to SJR 13, with the senior tax break and the cap busting.

And I agree, this needs to be kept out of the Constitution.

Posted by: Joe on February 13, 2007 2:53 PM