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We have a messed up tax system in this state, part deux

Sooner or later, it’s going to collapse under its own weight.

BagOfMoney

The state’s highest civil court last week agreed to hear a case hinging on whether metal pipes, tubing and other equipment used in oil and gas production should be exempt from sales taxes. While the issue is arcane, the impact to the state could be significant.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar is sounding the alarm that a ruling favoring the industry could force the state to issue tax refunds of as much as $4.4 billion — enough to wipe out the state’s projected budget surplus.

“This is very serious, real money,” said Hegar, the state’s chief financial officer, this week in an interview.

Midland-based Southwest Royalties, a subsidiary of Clayton Williams Energy, sued the state in 2009 — just before a drilling boom transformed the U.S. energy landscape — after Susan Combs, Hegar’s predecessor, rejected a claim for refunds on purchases dating back to 1997. Over the years, the case has wound its way through the court system.

Now, the state’s Supreme Court justices are set to weigh the company’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling amid concerns that a prolonged drilling slowdown might hurt Texas’ bottom line.

It is one of two ongoing tax cases — the other filed by the parent company of AMC movie theaters — that budget watchers fear will cost Texas millions in past and future tax revenue if the final outcomes don’t go their way. Hegar called the pair of cases “two of the biggest potentially that could impact what appropriators do in the next legislative session,” though he expressed confidence that the state would prevail in both.

The oral arguments in the drilling case, set for March 8, are likely to enthrall accountants and chemistry teachers alike. The justices will need to parse the language of a sales tax exemption for goods and services used in the “actual manufacturing, processing, or fabrication of tangible personal property,” and debate how that description relates to the mechanics of petroleum extraction.

The case hinges on whether certain extraction equipment — like casing, pipes, tubing and pumps — fits the definition cited in the exemption.

See here for the background on the other case. Honestly, it’s all angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin stuff, and no one who isn’t a specialist will understand the ruling when it gets handed down. Which frees me up to think about the political angle, and what I think is this: With the state economy potentially in a multi-year slump, a budget that may fall into deficit again regardless of this case or the school finance case, and a property tax system that privileges the wealthy and powerful at everyone else’s expense, the time may be ripe for a candidate to grab the Mary Beth Rogers playbook and make a case for giving our state government a complete overhaul. The case for change, if things don’t get better, will be compelling. The counter, as always, will be to blame the federal government, and to be sure that will exert a strong allure on many. But after 15 years of all-Republican control, and multiple cycles of Republican candidates promising to fix the budget and build the economy, maybe there will be room for people to consider an alternative. Just something to think about.

AG’s office upholds Abbott’s line item vetos

Of course it does.

NO

Gov. Greg Abbott was well within his powers when he vetoed more than $200 million in funds approved by the Texas Legislature this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office wrote in an opinion issued Monday.

[…]

The nonbinding opinion, written by First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy, has the potential to shore up the governor’s power over the budget-writing process if Roy’s interpretation ultimately held up in a court of law.

“The provisions vetoed by the Governor each designate a specific purpose and the amount to be used therefor, and they are items of appropriations subject to the Governor’s veto” Roy wrote.

Abbott’s office praised the opinion Monday evening.

“The Attorney General’s opinion upholds the governor’s constitutional authority to limit unnecessary spending and ensure fiscal solvency,” spokesman John Wittman said.

The Budget Board is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, and its members include the chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees who write the budget. Like Abbott, Patrick also publicly criticized the board’s argument — so much so that he wanted a special committee to review the budget board and other legislative agencies. Email traffic between his office, the board and the House speaker’s office made it clear that a top Patrick aide had seen the board document in advance and approved sending it to Hegar.

The vetoes covered funding for projects at several state agencies and higher education institutions.

The largest funding item at issue was for $132 million from the Texas Facilities Commission’s budget to build a state office building in San Antonio to replace the G.J. Sutton State Complex. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, has previously urged the city of San Antonio to consider legally challenging Abbott’s veto, noting that the new building is expected to play a key role in the revitalization of the city’s East Side area.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the AG opinion. I’m not qualified to address the legal points of this, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the fix was in. I said before that this probably needs to be resolved by the Supreme Court, so I hope the city of San Antonio takes up TMF’s call to sue over this. Perhaps a better question to ask, especially of Republicans, is if it’s such a good idea to expand the Governor’s powers in this way. It’s certainly open to debate whether this is a good idea or not, but shouldn’t we at least have that debate? I’m just saying. The Chron and Trail Blazers have more.

We have a messed up tax system in this state

The latest exhibit:

BagOfMoney

The volatile oil and gas industry already has prompted Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar to reduce his state revenue estimate, but that may not be the last of the bad budget news.

A court decision potentially could cost Texas around $1.1 billion a year in franchise tax revenue, plus require four years’ worth of refunds totaling another $6 billion, according to the comptroller’s office.

“It could be enormous. Enormous,” Hegar said in an interview about the possible effect of the lawsuit brought by American Multi-Cinema, which so far has won its court battle for a bigger deduction from its franchise tax payments.

If the 3rd Court of Appeals ruling in the case stands, the two-year refund due AMC is calculated at nearly $1.2 million.

But Hegar is predicting a potentially much bigger hit for the state based on the assumption that a wide range of businesses would be quick to take advantage of the deduction awarded Missouri-based AMC. The state is asking the court for a rehearing.

The AMC lawsuit centers on the franchise-tax deduction for “cost of goods sold,” which includes such things as the raw material used to make an item.

The 3rd Court of Appeals ruled in the lawsuit in April that exhibiting a movie amounts to a “good” because it’s “perceptible to the senses,” fitting the definition of tangible personal property. Therefore, the court said, AMC can include its auditorium expenses as production costs when figuring its franchise-tax deduction.

“As a practical matter, the court’s holding could potentially treat a business exhibiting a movie as producing TPP (tangible personal property) in much the same way that a carpenter produces a chair or desk” and allow many other service providers to claim deductions, Hegar wrote to state leaders in June.

“It could be lawyers, accountants, people that mow yards. It’s just unbelievable how broad it was,” he said. It opens the door to deductions for their computers or other equipment. “You can even argue that now when somebody comes and mows your yard, you sit in the back yard and you smell that grass, and it’s real pretty. It’s perception to your senses.

“The list just doesn’t stop,” Hegar said. “It would kind of be like the kids’ Christmas list in a Santa Claus movie. It’s a real long list. It just keeps on rolling out the door.”

In a similar fashion, this ruling could also affect the state sales tax, and that could wind up offsetting some of the franchise tax loss. Or maybe not – estimates of the possible total cost of this ruling are in the $6 billion per year range. That’s getting into some real money, at a time when the state could wind up also being on the hook for a lot more money to public education. Like the public ed issue, this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the Lege, which could clarify what the franchise tax covers or – since abolishing the franchise tax is the current fetish – replace it with something else. I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

The economy takes its toll on state revenue

Nothin’ but good times ahead, though, right?

Transportation funding could take a hit under new revenue projections by State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who on Tuesday lowered his forecast of state tax collections by $4.6 billion in the face of a volatile oil and gas industry.

Hegar’s new forecast still leaves more than enough money to pay for the overall spending plan approved by lawmakers for the two-year budget period that began Sept. 1. Legislators left funds on the table and ended up with a bigger-than-expected balance when the state closed out the last fiscal year.

The new projection, however, affects the funding expected to be available for the high priority of addressing Texas’ congested roads. It lowers the oil and gas revenues anticipated to be funneled into transportation by $685 million.

“The reality is oil prices have continued to stay lower than what they were projected back in January,” Hegar said in an interview, adding that volatility in the industry makes forecasting difficult.

“We’ve sat down with different major companies and we’ve said, ‘OK, what’s the oil price?’ And boy, they are like a bunch of crawfish,” Hegar said. “It’s impossible to truly predict what the future holds, especially in this volatile commodity.”

In January, Hegar had anticipated the price per barrel of oil would be $64.52 in the 2016 fiscal year that started Sept. 1 and $69.27 in 2017. His Tuesday estimate lowers that to $49.48 and $56.52, respectively.

[…]

The budget approved by lawmakers this year totals about $209.4 billion in state and federal funds, of which more than $106 billion is state general-purpose spending.

In January, Hegar predicted that lawmakers would have $113 billion in state revenue available for general-purpose spending for the 2016-2017 budget period that began Sept. 1, and that tax collections would total about $97.8 billion.

On Tuesday, Hegar lowered his forecast of the revenue available for general spending to $110.4 billion and projected that tax collections would total about $93.1 billion.

The reduced projection of tax collections is separate from lawmakers’ decision to slash the state business tax, Hegar said.

It should be noted that the Lege underspent its original two-year revenue projection by about $18 billion. One could say that was prudent fiscal management, and one could say that it was excessively penurious at a time when there are many unmet needs, and one would have a claim to being right in each case. All I know is that for all the bragging our state leaders like to do about what economic geniuses we are here, a lot of it still comes down to good geological luck and the whims of the world energy market. Keep your seatbelts fastened, it’s unlikely to get any smoother in the near term.

Revisiting the Texas-Amazon sales tax deal

The Statesman looks back and concludes it was a pretty good deal all around.

Amazon

In 2012, the state rolled the dice on a controversial deal with e-commerce giant Amazon.com.

To end a two-year battle, Texas said it would drop a $269 million sales tax bill due from the Seattle-based company in exchange for an incentive deal, among other agreements.

Amazon said it would begin collecting sales taxes within 60 days and create 2,500 jobs in Texas and invest $200 million in the state by 2014.

Now, as the company says it’s exceeded those benchmarks, state officials and economists say the agreement was the right call for Texas.

“I believe Texas benefited from the deal with Amazon. The agreement meant Amazon began collecting and remitting taxes to the state, which the comptroller’s office felt were legally due,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar told the American-Statesman. “The agreement also allowed Amazon to start building warehouses and to greatly expand their physical presence in the state, which was largely beneficial to the economy.”

This summer, the Internet retailer told state officials it reached more than 3,500 employees in Texas and made more than $300 million in capital investment in Texas by the end of 2014, according to documents filed with the comptroller’s office.

Amazon also paid an undisclosed amount to settle the matter in 2012.

With the deal, Texas ended a two-year fight seeking the company’s uncollected sales taxes, and Amazon began collecting on July 1, 2012 — potentially adding millions of dollars in new revenue to state coffers in coming years. Now, current figures seem to prove that out.

An American-Statesman analysis of data from the comptroller’s office shows the state’s sales tax collections have risen by hundreds of millions of dollars since Amazon.com began issuing the levy on Texas residents.

Since July 2012, sales tax revenue in Amazon’s sector has gone up more than $325 million, comptroller data shows. While state law prohibits the comptroller’s office from releasing sales tax collections by individual companies, it’s clear a significant portion of that increase is a result of Amazon’s Texas sales.

Although Hegar wasn’t the comptroller at the time of the 2012 deal, he says the state has benefited from Amazon’s presence.

“We welcome and appreciate Amazon like we do all the retailers in our state,” Hegar said in weighing the company’s role in Texas today. “We encourage and benefit from the economic activity generated by both their physical activities in the state through capital investment and job creation, and also greatly appreciate their following the law by collecting and remitting taxes from our citizens when selling taxable items.”

See here, here, and here for some background. I supported this deal back then, and I’m glad to see it has basically worked as intended. The rationale from two decades ago for making online sales tax-free has long since been rendered irrelevant, and the effect of that policy has become increasingly expensive for state and local governments. It just made sense for Amazon and other online retailers to start charging sales taxes. A few years later, this isn’t even controversial any more. Like I said, a good outcome and I’m glad to see it.

Hegar punts LBB veto issue to Paxton

Duck!

NO

Describing the debate as one that “goes to the heart of separation of powers within Texas government,” Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Wednesday that he will not authorize more than $200 million in funds approved by the Texas Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott as the comptroller waits for the attorney general to settle the issue.

“There are complex questions related to the governor’s vetoes, so I am seeking clarity and requesting guidance from the attorney general’s Office,” Hegar said in a statement.

[…]

For several weeks, the issue was awaiting a decision by Hegar, the state’s chief financial officer. The governor’s office strongly disagreed with the budget board, sending a 29-page memo to Hegar decrying the Legislature’s attempt to use “magic words” to block the governor’s authority.

On Wednesday, Hegar said he would not dole out the funds at issue for the time being.

“I am lapsing the funds for all items objected to by the Governor and will treat the items in question as vetoed,” Hegar said. “However, if advised otherwise, those appropriations can be made available immediately.”

[…]

Hegar’s decision comes less than a week before the start of the fiscal year on Sept 1, when the budget approved by lawmakers this year goes into effect. His 15-page request to Paxton demonstrates the complexity of the dispute. Because Abbott’s vetoes targeted budget riders rather than appropriations, Hegar seeks clarity on not only the validity of the vetoes but also what to do about the impacted agencies’ budgets if the vetoes are upheld. Should Hegar reduce each agency’s budget by the vetoed amount? And if those agencies can still get the funding, can those agencies then choose to spend some of their budgets on the projects Abbott vetoed anyway?

“This is a constitutional issue that goes to the heart of separation of powers within Texas government,” Hegar said. “I have a fiduciary duty to Texas taxpayers to ensure their hard earned dollars are spent in a manner that is consistent with the constitution of the state of Texas.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the AG opinion request. Putting aside my lack of confidence in Ken Paxton, I kind of think this one needs to be settled by the Supreme Court. The Lege can then take a crack at clarifying what the Constitution says if it wants. We’ll see how it goes.

Still reviewing the video on the line item vetoes

Any day now.

NO

With varying degrees of concern, a smattering of government offices and higher education institutions around the state are waiting to learn the fate of more than $200 million in funds that the governor might — or might not — have excised from the state budget.

The Legislative Budget Board is challenging several of Gov. Greg Abbott’s line-item vetoes, arguing in a July 21 letter to Comptroller Glenn Hegar the governor has no authority to veto some of the items because they were included in budget riders. The challenged vetoes include funds for public projects and money for research at colleges and universities.

“The Comptroller’s Office is reviewing the documents provided and working to determine next steps,” spokeswoman Lauren Willis said Thursday.

Abbott is pushing back against the challenge, even encouraging potential political donors to help.

“Unelected bureaucrats want to strip Governor Abbott of his line-item veto authority in order to grow government and increase spending and debt. Join our fight with a contribution!” his campaign wrote in an email Wednesday that linked to his donation page.

Abbott has repeatedly boasted he cut off $386,000 meant for the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit that helps states develop education policies, that would have been used “to finance the promotion of Common Core,” a charge the Board has denied.

The largest item vetoed would have provided $132 million to build a new state office building in San Antonio to replace the G.J. Sutton State Complex.

“The renovation project was intended to play a major role in the revitalization of the East Side and would have been an enormous boon to the City of San Antonio,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, wrote in an email to the San Antonio mayor and city council last week. “I find Governor Abbott’s unprecedented and possibly unconstitutional actions deeply worrisome.”

Martinez Fischer encouraged the city to consider legally challenging Abbott’s veto if necessary.

See here for the background. It’s hilarious to see Abbott fight this by appealing to donors decrying his battle against “unelected” enemies – you know, like Joe Straus and Dan Patrick, who has been his typically weaselly self in all this – but that’s your modern Republican Party for you. In the end, the amount of money involved is a pittance, though the project in San Antonio sounds like a fairly big deal, but the spectacle is what it’s all about. It’s just a matter of posturing and trying to be the most macho, as that’s what they care about the most. See this Trib story and Burkablog for more.

Vetoes: You’re doing it wrong

Oops.

NO

Some of Gov. Greg Abbott’s line-item vetoes in the state budget might be invalid, the state’s Legislative Budget Board said in a 14-page letter sent Tuesday to Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar.

The director of the LBB said the governor’s veto proclamation, listing line items he chose to excise from the new budget, doesn’t have the effect Abbott apparently intended.

“The Proclamation from June 20, 2015 seeks to veto the appropriation for a number of purposes and programs contained in House Bill 1,” LBB Director Ursula Parks wrote. “However, in nearly all instances the Proclamation does not veto the actual appropriation but rather seeks either to veto non-appropriating rider language or informational items. As it is the case that the Governor may only veto items of appropriation, for the reasons outlined below I believe that many of the items in HB 1 referenced in the Proclamation remain valid provisions.”

That letter amounts to a rebuke of sorts from the leaders of the Legislature to the new governor. The LBB is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, and its members include the chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees who write the budget, along with six other legislative leaders from both chambers.

“In our analysis, most of the actions in the Proclamation have the effect neither of actually reducing agency or institution appropriations, nor indeed of eliminating legislative direction on the use of funds,” Parks wrote. “The Proclamation seeks to go beyond what is authorized in the Texas Constitution, is in many respects unprecedented, and is contrary to both practice and expectation since adoption of the Texas Constitution in 1876.”

Abbott’s office received the letter Tuesday afternoon and did not have an immediate comment, but argued in a memo last month that the governor’s vetoes were within the law. Lauren Willis, a spokeswoman for Hegar, said the comptroller’s office is still reviewing the LBB letter.

It says, in effect, that the governor vetoed items in the budget that he doesn’t have the power to veto, an assertion Parks sourced back to Abbott himself. In his proposed budget earlier this year, Abbott said that he wanted to expand the governor’s line-item veto authority and suggested amending the state constitution to take care of that. The Legislature made no such amendment.

“The implication in this statement supports the analysis that the Constitution currently provides limited and specific authority in this area; authority that the Proclamation seeks to extend,” Parks wrote.

The LBB letter is here, and the Abbott memo on which it was based is here. Nothing like having your own words used against you, is there? This isn’t a LePage level of failure, but it would be pretty embarrassing if it holds up. On the plus side for Abbott, his buddy Dan Patrick is there for him, even though he is also on the LBB. Intrigue! Ross Ramsay has more.

Whither the monarch butterfly

We should try to keep them from going extinct. That would be bad.

The state’s chief financial officer has approved a $300,000 grant to investigate why the number of monarch butterflies is declining in Texas, and what can be done about it.

The bottom line for Comptroller Glenn Hegar, however, is less about butterflies than it is about commerce.

The state’s interest in the study by the University of Texas at San Antonio includes the potential economic impact on Texas should the federal government decide to list the official state insect as a threatened species.

Kevin Lyons, Hegar’s press secretary, said that if the iconic butterfly is listed, “many industries important to our state’s economy could be affected, from agriculture to land development to energy production.” Texas, he said, is trying to take the lead nationally on monarch conservation efforts.

“This crucial research will help us develop voluntary best management practices to conserve the monarch butterfly while minimizing the impact on economic activity,” Hegar said in a statement announcing the grant.

The monarch study is the latest funded by the state in an effort to “gather data on species under review so it can respond appropriately to proposed listings … and find the right balance of protecting our natural resources and our state’s economy,” according to the website for the Interagency Task Force on Economic Growth and Endangered Species, which Hegar chairs.

[…]

In Texas and other states, studies weighing economic development against the cost of saving endangered species have become the latest battleground between environmental groups and big business.

“We’ve seen this with the sage grouse, wolves, freshwater mussels and other species,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Mass. “The argument is that if we have to protect anything, the world will end, when actually it won’t. There is a public benefit to protecting butterflies and other species, but it’s hard to monetize. … Studying the economics of a listing is a very clever way of saying the cost will be high – something most people can understand – when that doesn’t measure the cost of losing a species.”

In Texas, officials said the monarch study will evaluate the abundance and distribution of the otherwise unremarkable nuisance plant known as milkweed, the butterfly’s primary food source.

If the butterfly is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened, officials fear much of the state could be affected because Texas is a major flyway for the annual migration of the monarch between Mexico and Canada each year.

Environmental groups seeking to have the monarch listed note that the butterfly’s population fell from about 1 billion in the mid-1990s to just 35 million last winter, the lowest number ever logged.

“There’s been an 80 percent decline in the population, a precipitous decline,” said Lori Ann Burd, the environmental health director for the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, one of three groups that filed to have the monarch listed. “They can’t survive in smaller numbers. We’re really at the precipice with the monarch.”

That’s actually a 96.5% decline, which sounds pretty bad to me. Butterflies have an important role to play in pollinization, so to say the least there would be a significant cost if they were to become endangered or worse. Let’s for once please not be penny-wise and pound-foolish here.

Budget deal

What Christopher Hooks says.

BagOfMoney

Texans, you can put down your pitchforks and douse your torches: The edibles you’ve squirreled away in your emergency bunkers can be safely consumed. Life can begin anew. The tax cut war between House and Senate has been resolved, which means that barring a catastrophic screw-up—say, Comptroller Glenn Hegar realizing he misplaced a decimal point in the revenue estimate—we won’t need that special session on budget issues that legislative observers and hack journalists have worried you all about so much.

Is the package—a $3.8 billion dollar bundle of franchise and property tax cuts—any good? Well, that depends on your point of view. Most everyone, save some Democrats and probably a few right-wing senators, is about to tell you, loudly, that the budget deal is very, very good. There’s a great deal of face-saving to be done. This is the point of the session at which former enemies congratulate each other for the finest and most noble works of government since Periclean Athens: Patrick himself posited that this might have been the best legislative session in the state’s history.

The business lobby did pretty well in the tax deal, but the picture is a bit more complicated for most of the other players. The widespread perception outside the Capitol will be that Patrick “won” by getting some property tax cuts past the House. Meanwhile, Texans are getting a raw deal—with too small a tax break to make a real difference for most, and less money coming down the pike now and in the future for basic services like education.

[…]

Patrick wanted and needed a signature victory for this session, his first. After all this furor, Patrick is likely to win for his constituents a smaller-than-expected tax break that most Texas homeowners—the people whom Patrick is expecting to give him credit—won’t even notice, because they’ll be swallowed up by rising rates and home values. Average homeowners might pay about $120 less in property taxes than they might have otherwise, but how many will notice or care as their taxes continue to go up? The only thing that can bend the property tax curve downward is a substantive reorganization of the state’s overall tax structure. Anything else is a band-aid, and not a long-lasting one at that.

It’s not really the stuff that launches political careers skyward. Some of Patrick’s supporters have said the Legislature can rededicate itself to real property tax reform next session, but that seems doubtful. The economy will likely have cooled, and the state may face a budget hole thanks to the school finance lawsuit and other looming budget issues. This session may have been the last, best opportunity to do a big tax cut deal.

At least the teabaggers aren’t happy, though I suppose that’s the default state for them. The best thing I can say about this session is that it’s almost over, and at least a few of the awful bills that could have passed didn’t.

Reforming property tax appraisal protests

From the inbox:

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) releases the following statement regarding Senate Bill 1084, his bill to create a fairer property tax appraisal system in Texas:

“Homeowners and local communities across Texas are shouldering an unfair burden when large commercial property owners manipulate the property tax system to drive down their property values and property tax bills,” said Senator Ellis. “While most homeowners pay taxes on the real value of their property, many large commercial property owners routinely use appeals and lawsuits to avoid paying their fair share. When large commercial property owners shirk their responsibility, ordinary homeowners pay more property taxes to make up the difference. That’s not fair, it’s bad public policy, and it needs to change.”

SB 1084 closes the loophole related to how owners of business properties worth more than $1 million present their cases in court. No longer can lawyers for these property owners game the system, “cherry-pick” properties, or make adjustments that do not follow generally accepted appraisal techniques just to drive down their appraised value. Instead, they must select a reasonable and representative sample of comparable properties located within the county and based on similarities in location, square footage, age, and other conditions.

Relief can only be granted by a court if the appraisal ratio of the property exceeds the median appraised level of the comparable properties by 10 percent.

The bill also requires the Comptroller to adopt rules that establish standards for the equal and uniform appraisal of industrial, petrochemical refining and processing, and utility properties. Lastly, the bill allows courts to award attorney’s fees to appraisal districts that establish that the property in litigation was appraised in an equal and uniform manner.

The Legislative Budget Board examined the issue in the agency’s January 2015 Texas State Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report. SB 1084 is based on LBB recommendations, as well as numerous meetings with homeowners, appraisers, counties, and cities around the state.

Photos from today’s press conference can be viewed and downloaded here. Video of the press conference can be viewed here.

As you know, this subject has been a minor obsession of mine lately; see here and here for examples. The game is rigged, with a small number of high end properties essentially dictating what their taxes are, while appraisal districts and the vast majority of homeowners are left holding the bag. I don’t know what the odds are of this bill – the Houston Business Journal reports that there are several similar bills out there, including a couple by Republican Senators, though I can’t say how any of them compare to SB1084 – but any step in the direction of fairness and equity is long overdue. Better Texas Blog has more.

Hegar’s first revenue estimate is in

We’ll see how it holds up.

BagOfMoney

Amid concerns that tumbling oil prices could push the Texas economy into a recession, Comptroller Glenn Hegar offered a cautiously optimistic tone on the future of the Texas economy Monday, announcing that lawmakers will have $113 billion to haggle over in crafting its next two-year budget.

“Our projections are based on expectations of a moderate expansion in the Texas economy and reflect uncertainties in oil prices and the possibilities of a slowing global economy,” Hegar said.

The biennial revenue estimate sets a limit on the state’s general fund, the portion of the budget that lawmakers have the most control over. The general fund typically makes up nearly half of the state’s total budget.

Hegar predicted that Texas will take in $110.4 billion in revenue from taxes, fees and other income during the 2015-16 biennium. Hegar’s $113 billion projection also includes money expected to come from leftover funds in the current biennium. With the addition of federal funds and other revenue sources, lawmakers should have a total of $220.9 billion for the 2016-17 budget.

The state’s Rainy Day Fund is also projected to grow to $11.1 billion by the end of the next biennium if lawmakers choose not to use any money in the fund.

The state will end the current biennium, which ends Aug. 31, with $7.5 billion in leftover funds, Hegar said. That surplus will be split three ways between general revenue, the Rainy Day Fund and the state highway fund.

Two years ago, Comptroller Susan Combs estimated that the Legislature would have $208 billion for its budget, including $101.4 billion in general revenue and $11.8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. Lawmakers ultimately passed a $200 billion budget.

[…]

The liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities has estimated that lawmakers will need to increase general spending from the current $95 billion to $101 billion to maintain the state’s current level of services. More than half of that $6 billion spike comes from Health and Human Services, where an increase in medical costs and Medicaid cases in particular has grown.

Don’t expect that to happen. Indeed, if Dan Patrick has his way, it will never happen. The good news is that this is a reasonably sunny estimate, meaning The Lege will be able to do at least some of the things it wants to do without too much voodoo, assuming it doesn’t impose some ridiculously lowball artificial limits on itself, which it must be noted is always a possibility. But just because there’s revenue available doesn’t mean it isn’t spoken for, or at least in demand. The Observer explains.

On one hand, it’s not a crisis budget, and it’s not one that will require legislators to make cuts (though they might anyway.) The office of Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick released a brief statement that characterized the comptroller’s estimate as a green light for his agenda, which has included the promise of significant tax cuts: It provided “adequate revenue to secure our border, provide property and business tax relief while focusing on education and infrastructure. I intend to accomplish these goals.”

On the other, the “surplus” is a lot less than it looks at first glance, in part because the amount of budget trickery the Legislature has employed over the years. Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and Patrick have called for ending road funding diversions and making the Texas Department of Transportation whole again. But about $3 billion in additional revenue is needed to end diversions, and TxDOT says it needs an additional $5 billion just to keep the system at the current level of congestion—that is, without making any forward progress.

In education, the state has not yet gotten back to the level of funding that preceded 2011’s gargantuan cuts to public ed—a portion was restored in 2013, but a significant amount of money is needed even beyond what was the case in 2011, thanks to population growth. And it’s unclear how proposed voucher programs would affect the system’s overall cost.

And then there’s tax cuts. The truly sweeping tax overhauls that were talked about during the election, like substituting property taxes for increased sales taxes, seem to have fallen off the radar for now. In the past, GOP lawmakers of all stripes have passed minor tax bills and sold them to the voters as massive ones. That may be Patrick’s play, but even modest tax reductions will shave the “surplus” down in a hurry.

The question as always is what gets prioritized, and what gets left out. I believe this is an accurate summary:

Budget expert Dale Craymer, president of the business-based Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, pointed out that lawmakers in writing the next budget will have the cushion of unspent cash and “a pretty solid non-oil-and-gas base to our economy.”

Still, he said, the “three great wants” of tax relief, transportation and public education are big-ticket items.

“The state is still in a good position to deal with maybe one of these,” Craymer said, “but certainly not all three.”

I’d say that’s the priority order for the Republicans. What happens if the Supreme Court forces them to deal with public education, especially if they don’t leave themselves any room to do so? Your guess is as good as mine.

Hegar officially resigns his Senate seat

As expected.

Glenn Hegar

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, the Katy Republican who will become state comptroller in January, notified Gov. Rick Perry on Friday that he will resign his Senate Seat as of Dec. 5, paving the way for the governor to call a special election.

Hegar won 58.4 percent of the vote on Election Day to succeed Comptroller Susan Combs. He was widely expected to resign from his seat early to allow for a special election to take place sooner, allowing his replacement to join the Legislature during next year’s legislative session. If not for his move to comptroller, Hegar’s Senate term would have lasted until 2016.

“I am extremely honored, humbled, and grateful to the citizens of Texas who have elected me as their next comptroller, and I look forward to serving the taxpayers of this great state,” Hegar wrote. “I extend my deep and profound gratitude to the constituents of Senate District 18 for allowing me to be their voice in the Texas Senate for the last 8 years.”

The possibility of a special election to replace Hegar has been the subject of speculation for more than a year, when it became clear Hegar planned to run for comptroller. That strategizing among those interested in replacing him intensified in March, when he won the Republican primary and became the immediate front-runner in the general election.

See here for the background. To no one’s surprise, Rick Perry has already called a special election to fill Hegar’s seat for December 6, since it just won’t do to leave a Republican seat open any longer than necessary. Did Perry also schedule a special election to replace Mike Villarreal in HD123? Don’t be silly. He’ll get to that when he’s good and ready.

Replacing Hegar

Election season isn’t over yet.

Glenn Hegar

At least three Republican candidates – who hit the campaign trail for the then-hypothetical opening months ago – will duke it out to represent a rural 21-county Senate district that stretches from Fort Bend County to the outer edges of the Corpus Christi, San Antonio and Austin metropolitan areas.

Sen. Glenn Hegar, who has represented the heavily Republican district since 2007, won his race for comptroller on Tuesday. His resignation, which some sources say could come as early as Friday, will trigger a special election for the two years remaining on his term. If he resigns after Thursday, the vacancy would come within 60 days of a legislative session, forcing an expedited election timeline to give Hegar’s successor a chance to be seated near the beginning of the session, even if a runoff is needed.

Because of the quick turnaround, potential candidates started campaigning months ago to position themselves for a vacancy that did not technically exist until ballots were counted Tuesday night, causing some confusion among voters.

“Most of them were struggling with why there’s a race if myself or my opponents were not on the ballot,” said Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham state representative who spent Thursday raising money in the district. “People were calling me with: ‘Why are you having a fundraiser after the election?’ ”

Kolkhorst and two Fort Bend businessmen, Gary Gates and Charles Gregory, are competing to succeed Hegar in a race that will likely carry a high price tag. Gates has lent his campaign $1 million to begin airing ads in July and candidates may have to invest heavily to turn out fatigued voters in a special election that takes place not only after Election Day but over the holidays. Turnout could be less than 10 percent.

That’s two special elections that will be needed, since Rep. Mike Villarreal resigned from HD123 to run for Mayor of San Antonio. He was hoping for a quick turnaround, perhaps an election in December, to get his successor in before too much happens in the Lege. Maybe he should have waited a week to resign, I don’t know. I wouldn’t put anything past Rick Perry to prioritize the needs of a Republican district and the Republican Party over Democrats, but I’d hope he’d at least take pity on the Secretary of State’s staff and schedule both special elections at the same time. We’ll see. Oh, and if Lois Kolkhorst winds up winning Hegar’s seat, there will then need to be another special election to replace her. The fun never ends. Texas Politics has more.

Interview index

For your convenience, here is a list of all my interviews and judicial Q&As for the November election. This includes ones I did for the primary and runoff.

Interviews

US SenateDavid Alameel

Attorney GeneralSam Houston
ComptrollerMike Collier
Land CommissionerJohn Cook
Railroad CommissionerSteve Brown

State Senate, SD15Sen. John Whitmire
State Senate, SD17Rita Lucido

State House, HD23Susan Criss
State House, HD75Rep. Mary Gonzalez
State House, HD131Rep. Alma Allen
State House, HD133Laura Nicol
State House, HD145Rep. Carol Alvarado

District AttorneyKim Ogg
County ClerkAnn Harris Bennett
District ClerkJudith Snively
TreasurerDavid Rosen
HCDE Trustee At LargeDebra Kerner
HCDE Trustee At LargeMelissa Noriega

Judicial Q&As

14th Court of AppealsKyle Carter

180th Criminal District CourtRandy Roll
185th Criminal District CourtMack McInnis
230th Criminal District CourtGreg Glass
248th Criminal District CourtShawna Reagin
263rd Criminal District CourtHerb Ritchie

55th Civil District CourtKay Morgan
113th Civil District CourtSteven Kirkland
190th Civil District CourtFarrah Martinez
234th Civil District CourtBarbara Gardner
281st Civil District CourtTanner Garth

246th Family District CourtSandra Peake
247th Family District CourtChip Wells
280th Family District CourtBarbara Stalder
308th Family District CourtJim Evans
309th Family District CourtKathy Vossler
311th Family District CourtSherri Cothrun

313th Juvenile District CourtTracy Good

Harris County Probate Court #1Kim Bohannon Hoesl
Harris County Probate Court #2Josefina Rendon
Harris County Probate Court #4James Horwitz

Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 2Harold Landreneau
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 10George Barnstone
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 13Jason Luong

Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2Scot Dollinger

Comptroller candidates will debate

It’s a trend!

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Candidates in the race for state comptroller have agreed to one televised debate, though watching the debate requires a Time Warner Cable subscription fo North Texas viewers.

Mike Collier, a Democrat from Houston, and Sen. Glenn Hegar, a Katy Republican, will face off 7 p.m., Oct. 29 in Austin. The 30-minute debate is sponsored by Time Warner Cable News. It will be broadcast to the Austin, San Antonio and Hill Country media markets.

The debate will be viewable statewide through the TWC’s On Demand service, as well as online here: http://sanantonio.twcnews.com/content/politics/.

As chief financial officer, the comptroller’s office collects all taxes owed to the state and estimates the state’s tax revenue for the biennium, among other duties. Lawmakers use the revenue estimate to set the two-year budget.

“Senator Hegar looks forward to discussing the important issues facing our state,” said David White, a spokesman for the campaign.

“Texans deserve to hear from the person who will be accountable for their tax dollars. I’m honored to receive this opportunity to show Texans how I will be their financial watchdog in the Comptroller’s office, not just another career politician,” Collier said.

If you can get past the fact that it happens with two days left in early voting and it’s easily available to only a fraction of the state, this is a good thing. The fact that there’s a debate at all, and that the Dems have a candidate that’s worth having in a debate, makes it worthwhile. Yes, it would be better to have something more widely visible, but given that the baseline for comparison is “nothing”, it’s an improvement. The Trib has more.

By the way, Collier continues to dominate the newspaper endorsements, picking up nods from the Express News and Star-Telegram this week. I thought Collier would do well in the editorial board interviews, but as a first-time candidate going against an experienced legislator who wasn’t weighed down by sixteen tons of ethical baggage, it was hardly a slam dunk that he’d get a string of endorsements. That he’s one paper away from a Sam Houston-style clean sweep says a lot about his qualities as a candidate and as a person. He’s also been sharp in how he has presented himself, as his latest campaign ad attests. I’m hard pressed to think of any way in which Collier could have run a better campaign. I hope the actual viewership of that debate far exceeds my meager expectations.

On a related note, there’s also this.

The only debate scheduled between Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his Democratic opponent, David Alameel, could end up only being broadcast in Spanish.

Cornyn and Alameel are scheduled to participate in a one-hour debate in Dallas hosted by Univision on Oct. 24. The debate will be conducted in English. Univision will broadcast the debate the next day with the candidates’ remarks dubbed in Spanish at 10 p.m. in eight markets around the state, according to Felicitas Cadena, community affairs manager for Univision Communications.

“The debate will not air in English in any market,” Cadena said in an email.

[…]

Cadena said the channel is open to talking with other media outlets about broadcasting the debate in English on television or online.

“We’re just looking at technical possibilities,” Cadena said. “We’d be more than glad to have that discussion.”

Putting the video online somewhere, pre-dubbed and post-dubbed, should not be too much to ask. I guess we’ll see.

Endorsement watch: Probate courts

The Chron makes its endorsements for Probate Courts, and as they have done recently stayed mostly with incumbents while having nice things to say about the challengers. The one Democrat they recommended out of the four races was as follows:

Jerry Simoneaux

Harris County Probate Court No. 3: Jerry Simoneaux

A former probate court staff attorney, Democratic challenger Jerry Simoneaux is the right choice for this bench. A certified mediator who has practiced probate law for 13 years, Simoneaux, 48, graduated from the South Texas College of Law.

Incumbent Republican Judge Rory Robert Olsen has presided over this court since 1999. With a law degree from Duke University, an LLM from Southern Methodist University and a Master of Judicial Studies from the University of Nevada, Olsen, 65, has become an expert on the bench when it comes to mental health issues in probate. A prolific writer on the topic, he has recently worked on an assisted-outpatient treatment program with the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County. However, Olsen’s energy has begun to fade, and he has developed a reputation as an inconsistent judge. Voters should thank him for his years of service and send him out on a high note.

As it happens, Simoneaux is the one candidate out of four for whom I have not yet received Q&A responses. I previously published Q&As with James Horwitz and Kim Bohannon Hoesl, and will have one with Josefina Rendon next week.

In other endorsement news, the Chron also endorsed Big John Cornyn for re-election, in decidedly non-ringing fashion. Some choice quotes:

But voters should know that Cornyn is a Republican first and a Texan second. For a man who has served in elected office since 1986, Cornyn remains unfocused on issues of importance to Houston and the Gulf Coast.

Meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, it seemed as if coastal storm surge protection was a new topic for Texas’ senior senator. When asked about his position on the Ike Dike, Cornyn responded, “I don’t even know what that is.”

Discussing the nuances of exporting crude, Cornyn admitted, “I don’t pretend to understand these things.”

Way to make our alma mater proud, John. Elsewhere, the Star-Telegram joined the Sam Houston bandwagon, while the Dallas Morning News joined the chorus of Mike Collier fans. Let me quote a bit from the FWST piece, since it’s about as succinct a case against Ken Paxton as you’ll see:

The Republican nominee, lawyer and state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, is undeserving of consideration.

Paxton was fined $1,000 and still may face a felony investigation.

In May, state securities regulators found Paxton sent clients to an investment firm without registering or disclosing his own paid role.

It happened three times. A 2012 violation is within the five-year statute of limitations.

Paxton should know better.

No candidate to lead “the people’s law firm” should ever have misled a client, a state board or the people of Texas.

Anyone want to argue with that? By the way, there apparently was a Ken Paxton sighting the other day, in which Paxton admitted in passive-voice fashion that he had indeed committed a crime but that he stands lawyered-up and ready to fight the charges against him when they are finally filed. If that’s not a compelling campaign story, I don’t know what is.

Finally, the DMN went red in the races for Land Commissioner, Ag Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner, in the latter case because they valued industry experience more than not being another industry insider, in the former case because they naively think Baby Bush might somehow turn out to be Not That Kind Of Republican, and in the middle case for reasons unclear. Maybe Sid Miller was the only one that showed up, I dunno.

Interview with Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Given that we are guaranteed to have an entirely new set of statewide officeholders after this election no matter who wins, there are a lot of candidates with current or past experience as elected officials, or at least as candidates. Despite that, one of the most compelling candidates running this year is a first timer, Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate running for Comptroller. Collier is a career accountant, which you would think would be the norm for the state’s top financial officer, but it’s not. It was his experience as an accountant that led him to believe something was seriously wrong with how the Comptroller was estimating revenue for the 2011 legislative session, when incumbent Susan Combs projected a $28 billion deficit that turned out to be far off base but which led to devastating budget cuts for public education. His experience as an auditor led him to be critical of the Major Events Trust Fund and its unaccountable giveaway of millions of dollars to Formula One in Austin. His no-nonsense approach and sensible talk about ensuring the integrity of Texas’ finances have led him to be endorsed so far by the Statesman, the Caller, and now the Chronicle. Listen to him for a few minutes and you’ll see why he’s made such an impressive case for himself. Here’s the interview:

I will wrap up candidate interviews next week, and as noted before will continue to run judicial Q&As for as long as I receive responses.

UPDATE: The DMN endorsed Collier over the weekend.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Collier

Add the Houston Chronicle to the list of papers endorsing Mike Collier for Comptroller.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

[Sen. Glenn] Hegar knows politics; Collier knows the numbers. In our view the choice is clear: Texas needs the numbers man, not a politician who wants to use the office as a stepping stone to higher office.

Texans know what can happen when a comptroller gets the numbers wrong. In January 2013, the outgoing comptroller, Susan Combs, produced a Biennial Revenue Estimate that showed she had grossly underestimated what the state’s revenue would be in the 2012-13 biennium. That mistake, which prompted Collier to run for the office, played havoc with budget choices during the 2011 legislative session, including a $5.4 billion cut in education funding that didn’t have to be made.

Hegar, who has said he was proud of the education cut, seemed to suggest during the GOP primary that his chief qualifications for serving as comptroller were his opposition to abortion and his enthusiasm for the 2nd Amendment.

Since then, he has offered suggestions about how to run the office more effectively – more transparency, more training, a top-down review of the office’s basic functions – but it’s our impression he’d be learning on the job, and probably biding his time for the next office to open up.

Collier, one of the more engaging and articulate candidates we interviewed during the campaign season, clearly has the experience to run the comptroller’s office. He also has ideas for making it function more effectively – among them, producing quarterly revenue estimates so that lawmakers would have a better understanding of the state’s fiscal health.

The Chron joins the Statesman and the Caller and recommending Collier. I feel confident they won’t be the last paper to do so. Again, does this mean much? No, certainly not in this day and age, and in a partisan election. But it’s not nothing, and every little bit of reinforcement for the message that Collier is easily the better choice helps. Look for my interview with him on Monday.

Endorsement watch: One for Steve Brown

The Express News makes a nice call.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

In this year’s contest, Democrat Steve Brown is the best candidate.

A former party chairman of Fort Bend County, Brown has not worked in the oil-and-gas industry and can bring a much-needed outsider’s viewpoint. He is clearly the best candidate to voice concerns raised by people in communities most affected by the oil-and-gas boom.

Brown takes concerns about water usage, disposal wells fueling tremors in West Texas and the effects of flaring on our air quality seriously.

He has endorsed recommendations from the Sunset Advisory Commission to change the Railroad Commission’s name, place limits on fundraising from the oil-and-gas industry, and expand its recusal policy so conflicts are placed in writing.

The powerful oil-and-gas industry has excessive influence on the commission. Industry interests and public interests are not always the same.

I’ve talked before about how I expect some of the newspaper endorsements to go – I expect Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston to sweep, Mike Collier and Wendy Davis to do well, and Baby Bush to be the Republican standard-bearer – but the Railroad Commissioner race is harder to read. The E-N pretty much lays out the choice: Ryan Sitton will get the nod from the papers that think experience matters for this office, and Brown will be endorsed by those that think an outsider is needed on this industry-dominated commission. The fact that Brown is smart and a good communicator, has worked hard to learn the details of the job and has put forward some good policy ideas has helped his cause. I hope the other papers see it as the Express News did.

In other endorsement news, the Corpus Christi Caller has been busy. They put out nice recommendations for Mike Collier and Sam Houston. From the latter:

Houston lawyer Sam Houston, the Democrat running for attorney general, would make a compelling case for our endorsement even if the Republican nominee could match his resume and unblemished reputation for ethics. Republican Ken Paxton should be disqualified from consideration because his compromised ethics are a matter of record. We’re disturbed that Republican voters didn’t do that in the primary or the runoff.

[…]

Houston would focus the office of attorney general more forcefully upon its core functions — enforcing consumer protection laws, collecting child support, issuing open-records opinions — and less on suing the federal government at Texas taxpayer expense. Attorney General Greg Abbott famously sued the government to obstruct environmental regulation and Obamacare implementation, and to stop a federal judge’s ruling that would have protected the endangered whooping crane. All of the Republican candidates for attorney general, especially Paxton, promised more of the same. So, we probably would have endorsed Houston anyway had Rep. Dan Branch or former Railroad and Public Utility commissions chairman Barry Smitherman been the GOP nominee — but not without acknowledging their undeniable fitness for the office.

Again, this one is such a no-brainer that I will be shocked if any paper comes up with a reason to tout Paxton. It’s just no contest. As for Collier:

If the state comptroller were a non-elected professional, sensible Texans would hire what they’ve never voted into that office — an accountant. Democrat Mike Collier — CPA and former oil company chief financial officer — would be a shoo-in. And the Republican nominee, state Sen. Glenn Hegar, a farmer — nothing wrong with farmers — would be irrelevant.

Hegar is an example of a recurring mistake voters make — a politician seeking a promotion to comptroller to then what?

Collier is believable when he says comptroller wouldn’t be a steppingstone for him. He’s easy to envision as a comptroller. Lieutenant governor? That would require some imagination. He has never run for office, says he wants to take the politics out of this one and — call us naive — we take him at his word.

[…]

Collier proposes quarterly revenue estimates, which would help lawmakers and the public know where Texas stands financially. He praises Combs for one thing — transparency — but says all she did was dish out mountains of unexplained data. He proposes explaining what it means — a task he’s uniquely qualified to do.

A very strong endorsement for a strong candidate. How much do these things matter? Not much. But it’s still nice to have.

And on a less serious note, there’s the Ag Commissioner race. Texpatriate surveyed the field, and after ruling out the useless Jim Hogan and the troglodyte Sid Miller, chose to endorse Green party candidate Kenneth Kendrick. Apparently, someone notified Hogan about this, and he paused “Storage Wars” and put down his bag of Funyons long enough to tweet his displeasure at this insult to the integrity of his campaign. Snarkery ensued, and so, I hope, will a drawn-out slapfight on social media. You take your diversions where you can, you know? To re-engage serious mode for a moment, it will be interesting to see how the papers handle this race. If there was ever a race in which a third-party candidate could rack up a few endorsements, this would be it. I don’t know that I’d bet on it, but I don’t know that I’d bet against it, either.

Endorsement watch: Statesman for Collier

The Statesman continues its early work on endorsements with a solid recommendation for Democratic Comptroller candidate Mike Collier.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

The deplorable revenue forecast issued ahead of the 2011 legislative session by the current comptroller, Republican Susan Combs, who’s retiring from politics, contributed to an unnecessary $5.4 billion cut to public education. Combs’ estimate – she was off by $11.3 billion, one of the worst misses in state history – motivated Collier to run.

Collier, 53, is the former chief financial officer of a Houston-based energy company and a former partner with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He has no previous political experience, though steering complicated projects through the huge bureaucracy of an international accounting firm with 180,000 employees requires its own set of political skills. He is a graduate of Georgetown High School in Williamson County and received his undergraduate and master of business administration degrees from the University of Texas.

Though he faces the usual long odds of any Democrat running for statewide office in Texas, Collier is a dynamic candidate. Engaging, enthusiastic and clearly knowledgeable of the duties of the office he seeks, he is a natural communicator with a winning sense of humor. The Texas Democratic Party could use more candidates like him.

Collier sees the comptroller’s office as “an exciting management challenge” that fits best with his focus on performance, not on, say, social issues that he says freeze too many voters in place. One of his main ideas for reforming the agency is to issue quarterly revenue estimates. Such estimates, he says, will improve the comptroller’s accuracy and timeliness, remove political agendas and make a huge difference in how the Legislature does its job.

The comptroller may not be as well-known a state official as the governor, or even lieutenant governor, but the comptroller still has a bully pulpit of sorts, Collier says, and he plans to use it to persuade counties to improve their property tax appraisals. He also wants to establish an ongoing dialogue with taxpayers about the state’s fiscal health and properly funding public education. And he says he’d lobby lawmakers to revive the comptroller’s ability to conduct performance reviews – accountability audits of state agencies to identify possible savings and improve the state’s finances.

As I noted with the Statesman’s endorsement of Sam Houston, I expect Collier to get the lion’s share of endorsements from the papers. Maybe not all of them, as he’s a first time candidate who speaks his mind directly, but any he does lose won’t be because he isn’t the better-qualified candidate. Having recently had the opportunity to interview him, I can confirm the Statesman’s assessment of him and his capabilities. I’ll say it again, on the merits and on their accomplishments and experience, the overall statewide Democratic ticket wipes the floor with the Republicans in a way that we haven’t seen since at least 1994, the last year we won something at the top. I’ll take all the good omens I can get. Look for my upcoming interview with Collier and be sure to give it a listen. If you don’t know much about the guy now, you’ll like what you hear.

Collier keeps up the attack

I really like the way he’s running his campaign.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Democratic comptroller nominee Mike Collier says his Republican opponent Glenn Hegar bragged to a Houston-area tea party interviewer last year that he was proud of the Legislature’s 2011 budget cuts to public schools. On Friday, Collier released a web video to prove it.

“It’s embarrassing and unacceptable that Glenn Hegar takes pride in cutting education despite our extraordinary prosperity,” Collier said in a statement.

“Hegar does not share our values, and he poses a profound threat to something Texans have held dear since our founding, … a great educational system,” said Collier, a Houston businessman.

Hegar spokesman David White called Collier’s 40-second video “a distortion.”

Though Hegar, a state senator from Katy, joined other Republican lawmakers in approving $5.4 billion in cuts to schools in the budget-cutting session of 2011, “Senator Hegar believes in adequately funding our education system,” White said.

Collier’s “entire campaign amounts to a distortion of truth and negative campaign commercials,” said White, Hegar’s senior adviser.

You can see the ad and the video from the Montgomery County Tea Party event from which the quote was taken at the link above. Note first that Hegar doesn’t actually deny saying what Collier accuses him of saying. He just says it’s not as bad as Collier makes it out to be. When he says he supports “adequately funding our school system”, he doesn’t say what he thinks “adequate” means. Remember, the state’s argument in the school finance lawsuit is that the current level of funding, which is still billions less than it was before 2011, is perfectly (and constitutionally) adequate. Glenn Hegar isn’t going to argue with that. Funny how these guys will proudly say something to one audience, then try to obfuscate what they actually said when it’s presented to a wider audience, isn’t it? The more Hegar complains, the more you know Collier is hitting the mark.

Planned Parenthood comes out swinging

Good to see.

Planned Parenthood’s political arm is embarking on the most aggressive campaign it has ever waged in Texas, with plans to spend $3 million to turn out voters for Democratic candidates including Sens. Wendy Davis for governor and Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor.

Bolstered by a $1 million donation from a single backer, Planned Parenthood’s latest Texas-based political action fund is sparking concerns among anti-abortion activists who expect to be outgunned financially by the effort that has a particular focus on women voters.

[…]

The new PAC, called Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, is intended to bolster the top of the Democratic ticket, along with a slate of state House candidates and the Democrat running for Davis’ open Senate seat. The group also endorsed Rep. Sarah Davis, the only Republican who voted against last year’s tighter abortion restrictions.

Created just four months ago, the PAC already has more than $1 million cash on hand, mostly through the $1 million donation from Planned Parenthood Chair Cecilia Boone. It’s only the third contribution of that amount recorded by any candidate or PAC this election cycle.

The endeavor will be coordinated with a new Texas-based Planned Parenthood 501c4 group, a tax exempt nonprofit that does not have to disclose contributors.

Planned Parenthood says the nonprofit is set up to handle administrative costs, while the bulk of the spending will be done through its PAC that makes contributors known to the public.

Despite having a long-established presence in Texas, state data shows it’s the first time Planned Parenthood’s political arm has dedicated this type of financial firepower to Texas’ elections.

[…]

Planned Parenthood organizers said they will parlay the PAC money into an aggressive field program to reach more than 300,000 women – including Democrats and Republicans identified as receptive to their message – through phone banks, door-to-door visits and direct mail. The campaign will also include a heavy dose of digital outreach that will include radio ads and online ads, along with social media.

That’s great and exciting and all, but I have to ask: What the hell took so long for someone to figure out this was a good idea? It’s not exactly rocket science, and the bad guys have been doing it for years now. More in the primaries than in November, I admit, but still. How is it that the light bulb never went on before now? And where are the other groups that ought to be doing the same thing? If I don’t see at least one more story like this about a similar organization between now and November, I’m going to be deeply annoyed.

Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant, said Planned Parenthood’s spending can slice two ways for Davis.

On one hand, it will put the abortion spotlight back on Davis and could stymie her messaging as a candidate focused on a broad range of policies. Mackowiak said, however, it can also provide more resources for her campaign, which is at a 3-1 cash disadvantage compared to Abbott, and maybe even provide a bit of cover on the issue.

“The campaign knows that talking about abortion is a net loser for her,” he said. “These outside groups can focus on maximizing the pro-choice vote while Wendy stays above that fray.”

I basically agree with Mackowiak, but not for the reason he has in mind. The issue here for Davis, as I’ve said before, is that there’s precious little she can do as Governor to advance reproductive rights. She can’t undo or roll back HB2, the bill she famously filibustered, she can’t restore funding to family planning services or Planned Parenthood. She can’t even introduce a bill to do any of these things, not that they’d go anywhere if she could. The one thing she can do is be the last line of defense against further assaults on women’s health and reproductive freedom, via the veto pen. Vitally important, to be sure, and something that needs to be said, but talking about defense doesn’t strike me as very inspiring. In my more cynical moments, I suspect that if she did speak more about it, the nattering types that have complained Davis has not talked enough about abortion would complain that she’s focusing on it too much.

Be that as it may, apocalyptic scenarios and desperate appeals to hold the line are exactly the sort of thing that outside groups are made for. They can get as hyperbolic as they want and do whatever they can to scare targeted voters to the ballot box. (Again, the mind boggles that we hadn’t been doing this before now.) In addition, PPVT and any other groups that want to jump in can shill for candidates other than just Wendy Davis as well. Certainly they’d want to push for Leticia Van de Putte, but including Sam Houston and Mike Collier – yes, I know that the Comptroller has little to nothing to do with abortion, but remember that Collier is running against the guy who sponsored HB2 – would also make sense and would be a nice little boost to their campaigns.

So jump in with both feet, PPVT, and invite your friends to jump in with you. There’s plenty of people in Texas to help fund this kind of effort. We need them all to keep some of their money in state and do their part to help the good guys win in November.

Collier hits the road

Talking taxes, and our state’s screwed-up appraisal process.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

With about as many local candidates as voters in attendance, the Travis County Democratic Party hosted a “town hall” on property tax reform Friday morning, where everybody agreed with would-be County Commissioner (Precinct 2) Brigid Shea: “The appraisal process is broken.” To fix it – in the current state political climate – will take some doing.

The event, introduced by TCDP Executive Director J.D. Gins, was headlined by Shea and Mike Collier, candidate for state Comptroller, who each spoke briefly and then responded to audience questions. Among the several dozen attendees, Newsdesk counted at least a dozen local candidates – most of them for Austin’s fall City Council elections – and among them likely County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who took the mic for a moment to rattle off some estimates of the financial benefits to county homeowners of substantial tax reform. The forum was also webcast across the state; Shea introduced a brief video produced by Real Values for Texas, a new statewide coalition “taking action to expose the impact of our state’s broken property tax system on homeowners, kids, and local communities.”

The gist of the problem, reiterated Collier and Shea, is that the property tax appraisal system has been allowed to become radically inequitable – even unconstitutional, said Collier. Under the Texas Constitution, properties are required to be assessed at market value for taxation purposes. For individual homeowners, said Collier, that’s mostly what happens; but big industrial and commercial property owners have managed, over the years, by various mechanisms – e.g., limiting exposure, concealing sales prices, and using greater resources to appeal – to be taxed at much lower valuations.

According to Real Values for Texas, the result is a system that, statewide, taxes major commercial and industrial properties at roughly 60% of market value, thereby moving much of that additional burden onto residential homeowners. Shea said that during her campaign visits, the subject is on everyone’s lips (especially in Travis County, where property values continue to surge). “It is hurting people all across our state,” Shea said, “literally driving people out of their homes.”

Collier noted that statewide, the problem must be addressed by the Legislature, which has largely relied on across-the-board spending cuts – especially to public schools – instead of attempting to make the system more equitable. He recommended three basic fixes: 1) tightening the definition of capital property; 2) requiring some form of sale price disclosure (as is required in 46 states); 3) addressing the imbalance in “negotiating power.” Commercial property owners, he pointed out, not only have teams of lawyers to appeal their valuations, but also, if they should win a lawsuit, the appraisal districts must pay any legal costs (not so in reverse). As a result, appraisal officials are motivated to capitulate rather than risk losing contested appeals.

Collier acknowledged that substantial reform will require legislative action, but the comptroller has a “voice, and the data,” to press the Legislature to comprehend the problem and restore equity to the system. He said that the Republican Party in Texas has become the spokesman and representative of big business, and “small businesses need at least one comptroller.” Rather than think first about the needs of big business, he added, state officials need to consider, in order, the needs of “homeowners, consumers, small business, and then big business.”

We’ve talked about this before, and you know how I feel about it. I’m glad to see Collier out and about talking about this – he’s on a two-week statewide tour, including a stop in Atascocita today, to discuss the issue. If he can get his message out, he can put himself in a position to win.

Mayor Parker discusses her possible political future again

After making a rousing speech at the TDP convention, Mayor Annise Parker talked about some possible paths she could take for a future statewide campaign.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Parker said she would be interested in running for any number of statewide positions when her third and final two-year term is up in 2016 – even Texas’ top job.

“I would absolutely consider a statewide ballot effort for the right seat,” Parker told the Houston Chronicle, adding that she doesn’t have an exact plan drawn up at this time. “And as the CEO of the 4th largest city in America, I could be the governor of Texas.”.

The 58-year-old said she would be “eminently qualified” to be comptroller of public accounts, Texas land commissioner or sit on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission.

The only jobs for which she isn’t interested? Lieutenant governor and U.S. Congress. “Respectfully to members of Congress, I’m the CEO of a $5 billion corporation, and I make decisions every day. I don’t want to go talk about things. I want to do things.”

I’ve discussed this before, and I’m mostly not surprised by Parker’s words. The one office I hadn’t foreseen as a possibility was Land Commissioner, but between veterans’ issues and the leases that the GLO manages and grants on occasionally urban land, it makes sense. And of course the Railroad Commission is all about oil and gas regulation, and Mayor Parker spent 20 years in the oil business before entering politics. Other than the RRC, which has six-year terms for its three Commissioners, the candidacy of Mayor Parker or anyone else for these offices is contingent on them not being won by a Democrat this year. As awesome as that would be, it would throw a wrench into the works for the large number of potential up-and-comers now waiting in the wings.

For her part, Parker is watching the political trajectories of two other Houston women: state Sen. Sylvia Garcia and state Rep. Carol Alvarado. A fellow former mayor who now sits in the state Senate, Kirk Watson, is also on her list of rising stars, as are Mayor Julian Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.

The twin brothers from San Antonio are widely accepted to become the default face of the party after this year’s statewide election. Speaking to the Chronicle after his speech in a packed convention hall Friday evening, the congressman would not preview where his political trajectory might lie.

“I’ll look at all opportunities where I can be most helpful,” said Joaquin Castro. He added he hasn’t yet decided whether he might run for another office, such as U.S. Senate. Some see him as a natural foil to Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

His brother, tapped by President Barack Obama to be the next housing secretary, is also considered one of the most viable statewide or national candidates from the party, although some worry whether his political standing will suffer at the hands of Republicans in Washington as so many other cabinet secretaries have in recent years.

Representing Texas in Washington, U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey and Pete Gallego repeatedly made the “best of” lists of many state party leaders this weekend.

In Dallas, state Rep. Rafael Anchia and Sen. Royce West are ones to watch, they said, while Sylvester Turner is another prominent Houstonian with political potential.

I’ve discussed the bench and the possible next step for a variety of Dems before. One person who isn’t mentioned in this story but should be is State Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio, who has been previously mentioned as a candidate for Comptroller and who has announced his intent to run for Mayor of San Antonio in 2015. Winning that would move him up a notch on the “rising stars” list as he’d be a Mayor with legislative experience; you can add Rep. Sylvester Turner to that list if his third try for Mayor of Houston is the charm in 2015, too.

Besides the RRC, there is one prize that will remain on the board for 2018 regardless of what happens this year.

“It’s very different to run for statewide office unless you have statewide name recognition,” said [TCU poli sci prof James] Riddlesperger, who said the sheer amount of money statewide candidates in Texas are forced to raise to be viable pushes some out of the race before they can get started.

“It’s not like doing it in New Hampshire or South Dakota. We have six or seven major media markets and it’s enormously expensive to get statewide recognition,” said Riddlesperger. Keeping this in mind, he said the Democrats should keep a close eye on who could unseat Cruz in 2018.

“I suspect there would be a huge amount of national money that could potentially flow into that election,” he said.

Indeed. I mean, the amount spent in the 2018 re-election campaign for Ted Cruz on all sides will likely rival the GDP of several small nations. The story suggests US Rep. Joaquin Castro as the very-early-to-be-leading choice to take on Cruz, but I suspect we will hear a lot of other voices before all is said and done, whether or not there are fewer incumbent Republicans to oppose at that time. I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about this since we have some pretty damn important elections to focus on this year, but file that all away for future consideration.

Convention coverage

Wendy and Leticia and a whole host of others rally the crowd in Dallas.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte shared the spotlight at the Texas Democratic Party convention on Friday night, promising to change the direction of the state, ripping their Republican opponents and imploring Democrats to break the GOP’s two-decade grip on state government.

Davis attacked her Republican opponent, matching his attacks at the GOP convention in Fort Worth earlier this month, and talked fighting insiders in Austin.

“I’m running because there’s a moderate majority that’s being ignored — commonsense, practical, hardworking Texans whose voices are being drowned out by insiders in Greg Abbott’s party, and it needs to stop,” she said.

Davis spoke about her background, her kids and her grandmother, all as a way of establishing her Texas roots and values.

She talked about what she would do if elected, promising full-day pre-K “for every eligible child,” less testing in public schools, less state interference with teaching, more affordable and accessible college. She also implied she would end property tax exemptions for country clubs as part of property tax reform, and end a sales tax discount for big retailers who pay on time.

She took some swipes at her opponent, too.

“Unlike Greg Abbott, I’m not afraid to share the stage with my party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, my colleague, mi hermana, Leticia Van de Putte,” she said. When the audience hooted, she cautioned them: “Now you guys don’t clap too much or Greg Abbott will sue you.”

The insider slam on Abbott was woven into Davis’ nine pages of prepared remarks. “You see, Mr. Abbott cut his teeth politically as part of the good old boys network that’s had their hands on the reins for decades,” she said. “He’s been in their service and their debt since he ran for office, and as a judge and a lawyer he’s spent his career defending insiders, protecting insiders, stacking the deck for insiders and making hardworking Texans pay the price.”

Davis said Abbott accepts large contributions from payday lenders “and then clears the way for them to charge unlimited interest rates and fees.” She blasted him for taking contributions from law firms that handle bond deals approved by the office of the attorney general, and for saying state law does not require chemical companies to reveal what they are storing in Texas communities.

“He isn’t working for you; he’s just another insider, working for insiders,” she said.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Van de Putte, who spoke immediately before Davis, promised not to back down from the fight against Dan Patrick, her opponent for lieutenant governor. She said she would instead fight to “put Texas first.”

When she ran for student council president in junior high, she said, she was told she could not run because she was a girl.

“Well I did, and I won,” she said.

She said that lesson remains relevant now. “I need to run, not just because I am a girl, but because I want the responsibility. Because I know what needs to get done. And I know I’m the right person for the job.”

I love it when they talk tough. I’m not up in Dallas, though several of my blogging colleagues are. So far the reports I’ve heard are positive – lots of energy and excitement. One person even compared it to 2008, which is music to the ear. Obviously, the folks who take the time to go to a party convention aren’t the ones that need to be inspired to go vote, but they are the ones that will be doing a lot of the work to inspire others, so the more enthusiastic they are, the better.

As I said on Friday, the best thing you can do is work to help get the message out and get the voters to the polls. The next best thing you can do is pitch in financially. Democrats have done phenomenally well in grassroots small-dollar fundraising of late, which is both great and necessary since the other guys have a lot more megalomaniac billionaires on their side. Monday is the last day for this fundraising period, and while we can’t do much about the polling narrative right now, we can at least make sure that one part of the story is that our candidates will be in good shape to take the fight to their opponents this fall. So with that in mind, here’s where you can park that loose change that’s burning a hole in your pocket:

Wendy Davis

Leticia Van de Putte

Sam Houston

Mike Collier

John Cook

Steve Brown

If you can only give to one, I would advise you to donate to Leticia Van de Putte. Wendy Davis has already demonstrated that she can raise a ton of money, but Leticia needs to post a big number in July to ensure that every story written about her doesn’t contain a disclaimer about her ability to get her message out. Sam Houston and then Mike Collier are next in line. Those two plus John Cook and Steve Brown will have less effect on the ultimate outcome than the ladies will, but they are still very important.

“You just work with what you have rather than complaining that you don’t have it,” said John Cook, the land commissioner candidate. “That’s what our campaign is all about.”

Cook said he will focus less on the General Land Office and home in on the GOP’s controversial platform on social issues, which touts reparative therapy for gays and lesbians, among other measures.

“My job now is to point out the shortcomings of the Republican Party and the inclusiveness of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Brown, running for a seat on the state board that regulates oil and gas, has campaigned on increasing the Railroad Commission’s environmental stewardship and improving the agency’s fairness. He said he would work on communicating that to delegates at the convention.

Houston, vying to become the state’s chief lawyer, said he wants to depoliticize the attorney general’s office, saying that under Greg Abbott it too often has focused on fighting the federal government rather than finding solutions.

Collier said he intends to paint the tea party – and the Texas GOP, by extension – as anti-business for failing to support fully funding key state programs, such as public education, that ultimately aid business.

“If you understand business, you understand that you’ve got to invest to plan for the future,” Collier said.

The badness of the Republican statewide ticket doesn’t end with Dan Patrick. It’s rotten all the way down. Don’t forget about these guys, who will be working as hard as Wendy and Leticia with far less attention being paid to them.

John Cook mentioned the party platform, so let’s talk about that.

Roughly 7,000 delegates have converged on the Big D this weekend, two weeks after Texas Republicans met at the Fort Worth end of the Metroplex to hammer out a platform that drew national attention for its controversial planks on immigration and support for so-called “reparative therapy” to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality.

“All they did was talk about hating people,” Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said at a Thursday night reception. “This week, we’re in Dallas, Texas, talking about love, right?”

The Democratic Party platform will reflect that feeling, said Garnet Coleman, the Houston state representative in charge of leading the drafting committee for the last decade.

“Our platform is designed to include, not exclude,” Coleman said on Friday, the day before the draft document is viewed, debated and voted on by the permanent platform committee. “And I think their (the Republicans’) platform is an expression of values that are, quite frankly, outside of the mainstream.”

Coleman predicted the Democrats’ platform will not spark the heated debates of the Republican convention, where delegates fought over planks on immigration, medical marijuana and homosexuality, because of a “set of values” the party approved in 2004 and on which they have been building since.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of change,” Coleman said of the 2014 draft compared with its 2012 predecessor. The party will remain opposed to a guest worker program in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and the issue of child detainees on the border likely will not be included in the platform.

[…]

The most significant departure from previous years’ platforms likely will be the inclusion of a new plank regarding women’s issues, said Coleman. The section will focus on issues that affect women beyond family planning and abortion, such as wage disparity and other workplace challenges.

The transportation section also will see some additions, addressing what Coleman called the “non-sexy” issues of toll roads and highway building and maintenance funds.

“There’s not enough money to just maintain the highways we have, so that affects the ability for Texas to grow,” Coleman said, adding he would like to see a gas tax. “(Gov. Rick) Perry has made Texas highways into franchises for toll roads.”

As I’ve said before, no candidate is bound by their party’s platform, but I doubt you’ll find too many Democrats trying to back away or distract from the TDP platform. That especially includes the provisions on immigration.

Contrasting the GOP positions to their own, Democrats said it boils down to matters of inclusion and respect.

Like the Republicans, Democrats see immigration as a key to motivating voter turnout for the November general election.

In speech after speech Friday, Democratic Party luminaries ranging from Van de Putte to U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro to party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa bashed the GOP platform for its tough-on-immigrants, secure-the-border stance.

And when the Democrats approve their platform on Saturday, party officials said the result will feature most everything the Republicans’ did not.

“We are very supportive of a path to citizenship because there are people who are here and are very productive and have committed no crime and are adding to our economy,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, chairman of the party’s platform committee. “We are not for a guest-worker program, because that can become a form of indentured servitude.”

Throughout caucuses and forums on Friday, Democrats spent time focusing on the GOP platform that calls for tightening immigration enforcement, a position underscored in recent weeks by an unprecedented influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied apprehended after crossing the Mexican border.

“The Republicans have gone backward on immigration,” Castro told reporters. “You have a candidate in Wendy Davis that appreciates the contribution of immigrants throughout Texas history, and you have Republican candidates who use the border as a bogeyman. They use it to stoke fear. They use it to divide Texans, to turn Texans against each other and to win elections and the people of our state are tired of that.”

Stace seems to be pleased with developments so far, which makes me happy. There’s a lot more to come, but let’s stay focused on what’s important. Keep organizing, keep talking to the voters, and keep moving forward.

Great moments in false equivalence

The headline reads Money from disputed tax bills flowing to candidates for top tax chief, and then the story tells us that more than 99% of that money is going to one of those candidates.

BagOfMoney

Business entities and taxpayers are pumping thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of candidates who, if elected state comptroller, would receive their tax-bill complaints.

The Texas Comptroller’s Office is charged with collecting state tax revenue and implementing state tax law. And even though the state auditor sought a ban on business contributions to comptroller candidates nine years ago, the Texas Legislature did not act and the practice prevails.

In this election cycle, businesses and lawyers with clients before the comptroller’s office have thrown more than $200,000 into the campaigns of two candidates seeking to replace Susan Combs: Republican state Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy and Houston-area accountant Mike Collier, a Democrat.

Public watchdog groups see a potential conflict of interest.

“As long as we’re going to have comptrollers running on partisan political tickets, it’s almost impossible to filter out which contributions might not have an interest in the comptroller’s office,” said Craig McDonald, head of Texans for Public Justice.

Collier hasn’t received a lot of cash from entities with a stake in tax cases. Of the $200,000 he’s raised, only $1,500 comes from employees of ExxonMobil and BP, two energy firms with disputes before the Comptroller’s Office. He said he’d be open to legislative action barring contributions from donors with active cases with the office, but wouldn’t cut those donations out of his coffers.

“Because I’m the underdog and I’m trying to throw out the trench politicians, I’ll take money from anybody who’ll give it to me,” Collier said.

Hegar has snagged more than 10 percent of the more than $2 million he’s raised from businesses or firms with clients with active tax cases.

So in other words, of the “more than $200,000” that has been raised by the Comptroller candidates from people and firms that have business before the Comptroller’s office, at least $200,000 of it went to Glenn Hegar, while all of $1,500 went to Mike Collier. This is like saying that the Aaron brothers, Hank and Tommie, combined to hit 768 home runs in their career. One of the two contributed a lot more to the bottom line than the other. Oh, and well done on the “more than 10 percent of the more than $2 million” bit, which not only obscures the actual total (how much more than ten percent? how much more than $2 million?) it also surely confuses the more math-phobic readers about how much Hegar collected to the point where they have no idea that it’s way, way more than Collier. An impressive performance all around.

By the way, companies like BP and ExxonMobil have lots and lots of employees. Very few of those employees would have any role in or influence over the dispute process with the Comptroller’s office. Unless the BP and ExxonMobil employees cited above that donated to Mike Collier are among that small group, then the whole premise that “both candidates” are benefiting from contributions of entities and their representatives that have business before the Comptroller’s office is shot. Details, details.

The point of the story is that in 2005, a report by the Texas State Auditor showed that 750 taxpayers received $461 million in tax credits and refunds from the comptroller’s office less than a year after they or their representatives had made a contribution to then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. This was a key attack point by Rick Perry against Strayhorn in the 2006 campaign. That auditor’s report recommended that legislation be passed to the Comptroller or candidates for Comptroller from receiving campaign contributions from anyone that had a dispute pending with the office. Needless to say, nothing happened then, and nothing will happen in 2015. But at least now we’ve been reminded of the issue, and the Chronicle figured out a way to make numbers that are two orders of magnitude apart sound similar. So there’s that.

TM talks to Mike Collier

He’s a really impressive candidate.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

What I’ve been surprised by in the past two years is how much farther right the state has gotten, even compared to someone like Rick Perry, who has, I think, been conservative by any normal standard. When Combs came back in 2013 reporting an $8.8 billion surplus—to me, that was a red flag that we cut the schools budget $5 billion by accident in 2011, or perhaps not by accident; perhaps in an abundance of caution that should raise some eyebrows.

Here’s my perspective on that. When the Eighty-second Legislature sat in January 2011, she showed up with a Biennial Revenue Estimate that showed a deficit that surprised everybody. It should have been a red flag to everybody: maybe this estimate isn’t right. If you look at the state’s economy, even in the document itself where she transmits the news, page 1 says we’re going to have less in revenues, which leads to the deficit. Page 2 says the good news is that we grew in 2010 and we’re going to grow in 2011 and we’re going to grow in 2012 and we’re going to grow in 2013. Anybody with any finance sense should have said, “There’s something really wrong here.” And my opponent didn’t say, “I think there’s something wrong here.” I’ve gone back and looked at the revenues coming into the treasury at the time. If you did a quarter on quarter analysis—this past quarter versus a year ago—you would have seen that revenues were roaring in. She should have at least stopped and said, “How do we manage our way through this uncertainty?” I think it was politics, and unacceptable.

I tend to agree with that, although within the Lege, I think there were people on both sides who were trying to maneuver their way through it, because they were logistically constrained by what the comptroller had projected, or maybe they were politically constrained. So they wrote a budget knowing they would backfill the budget. But there were also some who genuinely didn’t understand, and maybe some who felt genuinely cautious because it’s better to have a surplus than a shortfall.

You know, Erica, what I think this all boils down to is that if you’re a politician, you struggle with all the political implications of what you do. But if you’re a chief financial officer and you’re not a politician, it suddenly becomes very simple. You think of it the way a real executive would think of it and say, “These are the numbers; these are the uncertainties; these are the possibilities.” You don’t have to go through all of that political stuff. But you have to have a comptroller who’s not a politician to do that. And that’s, I think, what makes this so compelling to Texas voters. When I tell the story, the response I get—this whole notion of what party am I running for—just dissolves when I tell that story.

Go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. I believe it’s a bit naive, albeit quite normal for an idealistic first-time candidate, to think that you can remove political considerations from inherently political processes. Revenue forecasts rely on assumptions, and assumptions are colored by one’s beliefs. Be that as it may, some forecasters are justifiably more trusted than others, and that’s a function of transparency and fidelity to verifiable facts. I feel quite confident that anyone who listens to Mike Collier will come away feeling good about his ability to make reliable forecasts. The key is whether he can get enough people to hear what he has to say. I actually got a genuine snail mail fundraising pitch from Collier the other day, and I plan to send him a check. If he can raise $5 million or so, who knows? What I do know is that the more voices like Mike Collier there are out there, the better off Democrats as a whole will be this fall.

Where are all the ladies?

Christy Hoppe of the DMN notices something missing on the Republican side of the 2014 ballot.

Rep. Kay Granger

The Texas Republican Party has a girl problem.

A glance down the list of GOP nominees set after Tuesday’s runoffs makes it look as if U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth has signed up for shop class.

She is the lone woman among the 50 congressional, statewide and top judicial Republican candidates.

In a year when the marquee races for governor and lieutenant governor will feature Democrats Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, the Grand Old Party looks like it’s going stag.

Candidate Lisa Fritsch warned during the primaries of “the party of all these men and the same old recycled candidates.”

And Fritsch is a staunch conservative who was challenging Greg Abbott for the nomination for governor.

State party chairman Steve Munisteri said he’s noticed.

“I would tell you I’ve had discussions with elected officials and party leaders about this very issue,” he said Tuesday. “Frankly, it is a concern.”

He said he is placing women in high-profile jobs and hoping to recruit more women to run for office.

The story has gone national, but it should be noted that Rep. Granger isn’t quite as lonely as Hoppe says. There is one more Republican lady among the statewide and Congressional candidates – there is also Susan Narvaiz, who is running for CD35 against Rep. Lloyd Doggett. And it’s not like there were a bunch of viable female candidates that filed but couldn’t make it through the primaries. The only serious contender for a statewide office on the R side was Debra Medina, who finished third for Comptroller with 19% of the vote despite that crappy Trib poll that I’m still not tired of mocking that showed her leading, and the only serious contender for a Congressional seat was Katrina Pierson, who was defeated easily by Rep. Pete Sessions despite having Ted Cruz as her overlord. The lack of Republican ladies on the ballot was a problem that one could see coming from a good ways away.

To be fair, there’s not an overabundance of ladies on the Democratic side, but there are three women running statewide. Two of them you’ve probably heard of, plus Justice Gina Benavides of the 13th Court of Appeals, who is running for Supreme Court. There are also two Congressional incumbents – Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Berniece Johnson – plus two more Congressional candidates, Shirley McKellar and Tawana Cadien. That’s two Democratic incumbents to one Republican incumbent even though Republican incumbents overall outnumber Dems in this group by more than three to one, and seven Democratic candidates to two for the GOP. I’d have liked for there to be more female candidates on our ballot – I did vote for Maxey Scherr in the Senate primary, after all – but given the historic nature of the Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte candidacies – the first time ever that a party has nominated women for both of the top two slots – it’s still something we Ds can be proud of. Better luck next time, Republicans.

Another story on the huge inequities of our property tax system

The Houston Press returns to an old favorite.

HCAD

“I’ve been sued every year by [JW Marriott],” says Michael Amezquita, the fiery chief appraiser of the Bexar County Appraisal District, which is currently ­facing $10.3 billion in appraisal-reduction litigation compared to the annual $4 billion to $5 billion average. In the 2011 tax year, BCAD’s ten most expensive courtroom losses to class A commercial and industrial property owners resulted in an absence of $1.8 million in tax revenue for San Antonio-area school districts.

“Valero sues every year,” Amezquita adds. “H-E-B [based in San Antonio] is suing every year now. They never used to sue me before.” The Houston Press’s interview request with Bill Day of Valero’s media relations department in San Antonio fell on deaf ears.

Appraisal districts and property-tax experts say the uniform and equal (sometimes called “equity”) provision, cemented into the Texas Constitution in 1997 amid yawns from lawmakers, is the evil responsible for Texas’s defective property-tax system. Also known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the statute created an annual circus in which big-money property owners and appraisal districts argue over how best to value the land, the sticks and the bricks, with the property owners almost always winning.

A 2011 study by Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs concluded that the state’s property-tax system generated more than $40 billion in revenue (or 47 percent of total tax revenue) in fiscal year 2011. There are billions of dollars on top of the $40 billion that should be there but aren’t, according to District 13 Senator Rodney Ellis. The Democratic lawmaker from Houston says that for every million dollars removed from the tax rolls, school districts, fire departments and emergency medical services are squeezed out of approximately $30,000.

The problem has been exacerbated by Texas’s absence of sales-price disclosure, which gives property owners a running start in property-tax disputes because appraisal districts must rely on private databases to procure sales numbers. Even then, it’s impossible to seize reliable data for every property — in 2013, HCAD was able to grab decent sales information on only 681 of Harris County’s 3,838 commercial transactions.

“Whoever heard of doing an appraisal without sales information?” says Amezquita. Idaho, Utah and Alaska — whose combined population is only 928,000 more than the total number of residents of Harris County — are the only other states that lock away all sales figures on taxable properties.

“It’s like boxing with one hand tied behind your back,” says former HCAD chief appraiser Jim Robinson, who retired from HCAD in May 2013 after serving 28 years at the agency. “What we see happening time and time again is tax consultants get everything that’s out there and they’ll pick a set of alleged comparables at the very bottom of the list and argue that they should be adjusted to that.”

What happens next, says Ellis, is that “as properties above the median are reduced to the target valuation, the median drops. The result is a constant and growing erosion of the tax base” on which Texas’s public-school finance channels are dependent.

[…]

The state tax code’s “remedy for unequal appraisal” section — the statute that has given central appraisal districts migraines for nearly 20 years — was added to the Texas Constitution in 1997, sans debate, after Representative Paul Hilbert offered the amendment in the waning moments of the 75th Texas Legislature.

“It was one of about 34 floor amendments offered that day…they said, ‘We’re just offering it for some technical cleanup,'” says Stewart, who has been working in appraisal litigation since 1985. “If I had been a member of the House and this had come up as a floor amendment with no fiscal notes or legislative comment, I would’ve voted for it. It was innocuous.”

Amezquita, in a phone interview with the Press, can rattle off the Section 42.26, Paragraph a3, provision from memory, nailing word after arbitrary word with heartfelt disgust: “The district court shall grant relief on the ground that a property is appraised unequally if the appraised value of the property exceeds the median appraised value of a reasonable number of comparable properties appropriately adjusted.”

Prior to 1997, property owners who took issue with an appraisal district’s value would protest based on Section 42.26, Paragraphs a1 and a2 — the part of the tax code that deals with appraisal ratio studies. Now “no one challenges on [paragraphs a1 and a2],” says Amezquita. “[Paragraph a3] is where the money is. Any blind monkey can win that deal. If I wanted to work for the other side, I could triple my money tomorrow.”

Since it was enacted, the law has been expanded in multiple sessions of the Texas Legislature, the most significant change coming in 2003, when “appropriately adjusted” was tacked onto the end of Paragraph a3. With the additional broad stroke of interpretation, ace lawyers have curried favor with the courts, leading an overwhelming majority of judges to side with property owners because there isn’t a definition of comparability in the tax code.

“Nobody has to use the yardstick of market value to keep you honest. They can just get an appraiser — and there are plenty of them out there who are hungry — to come in and pick properties,” says Stewart. “The way the courts are interpreting the statute, they say that’s permissible, and that’s what created the problem.”

Along with the state’s lack of sales-price disclosure, Stiefer says that Texas prohibits its appraisers from auditing any and all sales transactions. “This means the playing field isn’t level,” says Stiefer. “A homeowner can’t hide her house, but businesses can — and do — hide ­assets.”

West Virginia, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas also ensure equity among taxpayers in their respective state constitutions. However, none of those states boasts the complex mix of properties, population size or big-money dealings that Texas has.

“This isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. This has been going on since 1997,” Amezquita says. “It’s not a tax policy. This is nothing more than a scam.”

I’ve blogged about this before; that first link is about the last time the Press covered this story, on the subject of how HCAD is much tougher on homeowners than on commercial properties. This is mostly a legislative problem – the lack of sales price disclosure plus the legal standard that’s allowable for the appraisal lawsuits (read the story for the details) make it ridiculously easy for corporations and other large property owners to get ludicrously undervalued appraisals, which greatly cuts their taxes and starves government at every level of revenue. The Legislature could fix this – as it happens, Wendy Davis filed a bill that would have addressed the latter issue, but it didn’t make it out of committee. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about school finance in this space, and this is an underappreciated part of the problem, as the system is rigged to ensure that school districts get less than they should. It’s yet another issue you should keep in mind when you go to vote this year. Actually, given the dynamic of this year’s election, it’s another issue you should use to remind off-year non-voters why we need them to show the heck up this fall. However you want to look at it, we’re getting screwed. The good news is that we do have the power to fix it, if we care to.

As always when talking HCAD and property taxes, George Scott is your go-to source for the bottom line. A couple of his posts to read on this:

HCAD’s Perverted ‘Golden Rule’ Of Uniform & Equal Value Practices: “Stick It Unto The Little Guys As The Big Guys Have Stuck It Unto Us”

Will Texas Democrats Adopt A Property Tax Political Strategy It Can Drive Into The ‘Republican Suburbs’ In November?’; They Are Fools If They Don’t

To that latter point, let me highlight this Dave McNeely column about Democratic candidate for Comptroller Mike Collier:

In researching Texas’ tax revenue situation and Hegar’s legislative record, Collier’s team found a linkage. A seemingly innocuous legislative tax law amendment in 1997 allowed property taxpayers to appeal to have their appraisals lowered to the “median” for “comparable” properties. Big businesses have more resources and financial incentive to appeal than do homeowners. But under the state’s school finance formula, that leaves it to homeowners and small businesses to make up the tax difference.

An analysis in 2006 showed a shift of $4 billion in tax responsibility — just for that year, Collier said. The lower appraisals also cut tax revenue for local governments like cities, counties and hospital districts.

“Texas is booming, yet our property tax bills keep going up while funding for roads, water and schools is falling way short,” Collier said. “Glenn Hegar is part of the problem.”

In 2013, SB 1342, by Sen. Wendy Davis — now the Democratic nominee for governor — would have required stricter standards for appealing appraisals, including preventing cherry-picking of “comparable” properties. The bill went to the Senate Finance Committee and was referred to the Fiscal Affairs Subcommittee — chaired by Sen. Hegar. There was a public hearing April 18, 2013.

Representatives of several school-associated groups and local governments testified for the bill. Representatives of several business and real estate associations opposed it. The Collier team found that those opponents had contributed $160,000 to Hegar’s campaign since 2006. The corrective bill never got a vote in Hegar’s subcommittee, and thus died.

Davis has been hitting multiple themes, mostly having to do with education and equal pay. I don’t know how much her campaign is interested in breadth versus depth, but however much her campaign talks about this, she can and should get some reinforcement from Collier on this. How much will depend in part on how much Collier can raise to get his message out and in part on how much coverage of actual policy matters Collier and others can get. The issue is there, and Democrats are aware of it. It’s a matter of how much traction they get.

It was a bad week for the strip clubs

Another adverse court ruling.

A state appeals court on Friday upheld the legality of the state’s so-called “pole tax” on nude entertainment clubs, the latest decision in a six-year battle by Texas officials to collect the $5-per-customer fee from more than 200 strip clubs.

In a 16-page decision, the 3rd Court of Appeals overruled a challenge by the Texas Entertainment Association contending the law violated the Texas Constitution because it is an occupation tax from which 25 percent of the collections must go to public schools. The appeals court ruled that it is an excise tax that could be spent however the Legislature wishes.

[…]

In its decision, written by Justice Scott Field, the appeals court rejected the clubs’ argument that the fee was an occupation tax and, as such, was unconstitutional because it did not allocate a quarter of the revenue collected to public schools as mandated in the Texas Constitution.

The court also dismissed arguments that the tax violated the state Constitution’s “equal and uniform” requirement by covering only nude-entertainment business where there is an audience of two or more, and not other adult businesses, such as lingerie modeling studios or adult movie arcades that cater to single customers.

“We conclude that the sexually oriented business tax’s classification is not unreasonable because limiting the tax’s applicability to businesses with audiences of two or more reasonably relates to adverse secondary effects that the tax is intended to address,” the ruling states. “Given that the (Texas) supreme court has already concluded that the sexually oriented business tax does not violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, we likewise conclude that it does not violate the free speech clause of the Texas Constitution.”

The decision notes that the Texas Supreme Court upheld the fee because it “was imposed to address the adverse secondary effects of combining nude entertainment with alcohol consumption, both by discouraging the activity through higher taxation and by generating revenue for programs designed to address the social harms that result.”

Businesses offering adult entertainment to one customer at a time do not have the same adverse effects, it states.

First the Comptroller’s demand for payment, now this. The original suit was filed on First Amendment grounds but lost at the Supreme Court. This was a different tack, but so far not any more successful. I’m sure this will be appealed to the Supreme Court, so maybe by 2016 we’ll have a final resolution, assuming the clubs don’t have some other argument in their back pocket in the event this one fails. The Trib has more.

Combs tells strip clubs to pay up

Interesting.

Susan Combs

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs is pressing the state’s strip clubs to cough up millions of dollars she says they owe under a new “pole tax” even though the $5-a-patron fee still faces a court challenge.

“Any claim that ongoing litigation is a basis for nonpayment of the Sexually Oriented Business Fee is not valid,” insists an April 11 letter from the comptroller’s tax division that was sent to roughly 200 clubs in Texas that offer nude entertainment.

The fee, which strip club attorneys have claimed is an unfair tax, has been the subject of legal fights virtually since it was passed in 2007 as a way to fund programs for sexual assault victims and health care. The strip clubs’ lobby organization, the Texas Entertainment Association, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the fee, arguing that erotic dancing is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. But in 2011, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the fee did not violate free speech.

A new challenge, still under consideration by the 3rd Court of Appeals, argues that the “pole tax” is unconstitutional because the fees are not used appropriately. In the April 11 letter, Combs’ office said the continuing legal battle doesn’t mean the clubs can avoid paying all the fees they owe since the law took effect six years ago.

[…]

“They don’t like to be seen or heard,” state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, said of the club owners. “And I think that is what caused them to get in the ditch on this thing.”

So far, Dutton is the only lawmaker defending the clubs. In an April 23 letter to Combs, he asked the comptroller why her office decided last month to send out letters while the clubs’ latest court challenge is awaiting a decision from the 3rd Court of Appeals.

“I did send her a letter, asking her what has changed,” said Dutton, who opposes the fee. He said that if sexual assault programs need money, “the Legislature ought to step up to the plate and do that.”

Instead, what often happens, he said, is that lawmakers create fees against things they don’t like, like strip clubs.

“Where does it end once you start down that road?” he said.

A spokesman for the comptroller’s office, R.J. DeSilva, indicated in an emailed response that there was nothing remarkable about the timing of the collection notice.

“Our agency regularly sends notices or updates to taxpayers on various taxes and fees,” he wrote. “This particular notice was to remind business owners that the Sexually Oriented Business Fee is still in effect while litigation continues.”

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the strip clubs’ challenge after the Texas Supreme Court determined that the fee does not violate the First Amendment.

Now, the clubs are arguing that the state “fee” is really an occupation tax that should be directed to public schools under the Texas Constitution. They contend that the fee violates the state Constitution, which requires that one-fourth of occupation taxes go to public schools, because none of the money goes to schools.

The clubs’ attorneys are also asking the court to consider free speech provisions in the Texas Constitution, which they claim are broader than that of the First Amendment.

The state maintains that the fee is not an occupation tax, though, and it rejects arguments that it encroaches on free speech.

I must have missed the news about the second lawsuit, because I didn’t find anything in my archives about it. As noted, the original lawsuit was decided in favor of the state in 2011 by the Supreme Court, so it’s fair to wonder why now, almost three years later, the state is finally demanding payment from the clubs and rejecting the argument that ongoing litigation is no excuse. That said, while I may sympathize with Rep. Dutton about how the Lege should appropriate money for various things, the fact remains that the strip club fee was passed by the Lege and has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and wishing that the Lege did its business differently doesn’t change that. Not clear what effect, if any, this may have on the city of Houston’s strip club fee, which is also still being litigated.

Who’s afraid of the Republican slate?

I was reading this story about a kerfuffle in the Republican runoff for Railroad Commissioner when a thought struck me.

A Republican candidate seeking a post that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry said he won’t cut ties to his energy business if elected to the Texas Railroad Commission – a state board that historically has had a poor track record disentangling itself from industry interests.

Ryan Sitton is co-founder and chief executive officer of PinnacleAIS, which advises companies about maintenance of equipment used in oil and gas operations.

Sitton said he will maintain an ownership stake in Pinnacle­AIS if he becomes a commission board member – a declaration that raised questions by his GOP and Democratic opponent, ethics experts and tea party Republicans.

“That is a conflict of interest and it is very frightful,” said Wayne Christian, a former state representative also seeking the post.

I’m not terribly interested in the particulars of this fight because the overly cozy relationship between the energy industry and the elected officials that regulate them is a very old story, and typically neither candidate has clean hands. What occurred to me in reading this story is how undistinguished the two candidates are, and how that seems to be the case up and down the statewide ballot for the GOP this year. Consider this: Among the leading candidates in the primaries, including the two that won outright, Wayne Christian and Sid Miller are clowns, George P. Bush is a legacy whose advisers prefer to keep under wraps, Glenn Hegar and Ken Paxton are a couple of basically undistinguished legislators, and Dan Patrick is Dan Patrick. Murderer’s Row these guys ain’t. The fact that they’ve all spent the bulk of their campaigns talking about nothing – they all hate abortion, the Obama administration, illegal immigrants, and Sharia law, and they all love guns – adds to the overall picture of ridiculousness.

The Republicans did have some substantial candidates on their ballot. Malachi Boylus and J. Allen Carnes never had a chance to get out of their primaries. Jerry Patterson and Dan Branch, who is still alive but a big underdog, had to degrade themselves in their races in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to separate themselves from their mostly solid records of public service. Those past accomplishments, and their at least occasional willingness to talk about issues and – heaven forfend – what the office they’re running for actually does were anchors for them, not assets. I get that they’re running in a primary, and they have to address what the voters in that primary want to hear. Democratic primaries are often contests of personality as well, and the winner is often who loves what the base voters love the hardest, but the spectacle of these campaigns has been on another level.

And then there’s the top of the ticket. For all his status as the heir apparent to Rick Perry, Greg Abbott hasn’t exactly been setting the terms of the debate in the Governor’s race. I would argue that Wendy Davis has driven the story of this election from the beginning. That’s not always been good for her – indeed, for about two months running it was mostly bad news about her and her campaign – but good or bad, it’s been about her. Say what you want about Rick Perry, but all of his gubernatorial campaigns have been on his terms. Since February, Abbott’s tone-deafness and Davis’ attacks have been the main event. Oh, he tried to knock her back with his ethics proposal about bond lawyering that maybe ten people in the state understood, but it’s been a steady drumbeat Ted Nugent, Lilly Ledbetter, Charles Murray, and school finance. Neither Abbott’s own words nor those of his surrogates have done anything to help him or change the narrative, and there’s still more out there. At some point you have to wonder what else there is to him beyond a ginormous campaign warchest and a long history of being a Republican on statewide ballots.

Now in the end, of course, none of this may matter. We all know what Texas’ proclivities are, we know how historically weak the state Democratic Party has been and how far behind they are in building infrastructure and a GOTV machine. However you feel about the polls we’ve seen so far, none of them have shown a shift in the fundamentals. The next poll to give Wendy Davis 44% or more of the vote will be the first such poll since John Sharp roamed the earth. These guys may be clowns and empty suits, but they’re also the favorites to win. What I know is that I don’t fear them, at least not as opponents. If they beat us, it’s not because they can run faster or jump higher or lift heavier things. It’s because they have a head start. We may not be able to overcome that this time, but if this is what we’re up against, it’s all that we have to overcome. We will get there.

Collier’s sales tax criticism of Hegar makes the news

That’s how you do it.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Democrat Mike Collier, a certified public accountant from Houston, will start airing television ads criticizing opponent Glenn Hegar, a Republican state senator from Katy, for his support to phase out property taxes and increase state sales taxes.

Collier and Hegar are vying to replace outgoing Comptroller Susan Combs, a Republican.

The 30-second ad, which will air in Houston, uses video of Hegar touting his position at a January meeting of We The People-Longview Tea Party.

“I don’t like the property tax, never have,” Hegar says in the video. “I think we should replace it. The best thing to replace it with is a consumption-type tax, a sales tax per se.”

Later in the ad, a male announcer says, “Mike Collier has a better plan: Forecast revenues accurately. Invest in our schools. And, hold the line on taxes.”

[…]

Local property taxes account for roughly 47 percent of tax revenue in Texas, according to a 2012 report from the comptroller’s office. State and local sales taxes make up 32 percent of revenue.

Another 2012 study – written by former deputy comptroller Billy Hamilton and published by a Republican group called Texas Tax Truth – said consumers would have to pay up to 25 percent in state sales tax to make up for the approximate $45 billion in lost revenue caused by abolishing property taxes.

“There’s no way that Hegar can make a sensible convincing policy point that we should get rid of the property tax in favor of a broader, larger sales tax,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientistat Southern Methodist University.

And, the shift from property taxes would deprive local governments, school districts and other entities of their primary method of revenue collection, said John Kennedy, an analyst at Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. That would mean municipalities would have to rely primarily on the state to finance their operations.

See here for the background. Via TrailBlazers, here’s the ad in question:

Can I just say how excellent it is to have a competent Democratic candidate running for Comptroller? Here’s who we had in the past three elections:

2010: Nobody
2006: Fred Head
2002: Marty Akins

Arguably, that’s in descending order of effectiveness. I could be persuaded to swap Head and Akins. Basically, Collier is the first serious Comptroller candidate we’ve had since Paul Hobby. It’s a beautiful thing.

But, Collier’s line of attack isn’t guaranteed to stick, Jillson said. The Nov. 4 election is seven months away and voters may not remember a fight over taxes from April, he said.

Jason Stanford, a consultant working on the Collier campaign, said the Democrat’s team plans to maintain this line of attack through the November election.

“We can’t play this race according to the old rule book,” Stanford said. “We have to make this race about actual ideas and competence.”

The thing is, Collier could keep up this line of attack all the way through November without ever repeating himself, because there’s so many ways Hegar’s tax swap is attackable. Consider:

– Local taxing entities – counties, cities, school districts – would essentially cede all taxing authority to the state. Do you want local control over your city and school district budgets, or do you want to hand all that to Austin?

– Do you want to start paying $25,000 for a $20,000 car? With Glenn Hegar’s tax plan, you will.

– Unless you own a million dollar home, your taxes are going up. Unless you live in a place with a lot of retail activity, your city and your schools are going to get screwed.

– Can you imagine the black market that will spring up with a 25% sales tax? The Comptroller’s office will have to become an arm of the IRS to ensure adequate collections.

And on and on. Collier will still have to raise the money to get that message out, but having that message will likely make it easier to raise the dough. There’s no downside here. Burka and EoW have more.