Friday, March 11, 2005

Private security forces?

HB 246

This bill, filed by Tony Goolsby, would employ peace officers to aid local law enforcement officers in patrolling neighborhoods. OK, sounds reasonable. These peace officers would have all of the same powers as cops as far as making arrests go, as well as other powers and authority (with the exception of writing traffic tickets). Um, okay, sure sounds fair.

These peace officers would be privately employed. Wait, private cops patrolling the streets who are able to make arrests? Uno segundo...which companies would be the employers? What oversight would these private cops have? What about their taser policy and use of force policy? Answers folks, we need answers.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A list of HB 3's taxes

CSHB3 would cut local property taxes by raising other state taxes. CSHB3 is designed to be "revenue neutral" – meaning that revenue raised by raising existing state taxes and creating new taxes is used only to offset local property tax cuts. The tax equity note on CSHB3 concludes that 80% of Texas families will see an increase in taxes as a result of passage of HB3. Only 20% of Texas families, those with annual incomes over $100,000, would actually benefit from the bill.

New Taxes:

-essentially created a state income tax by requiring businesses to pay a 1.15% tax on each employee's wages. The tax base is capped at $90,000 per employee per year.

Applies the sales tax to:
-billboard advertising services, previously untaxed;
-all car wash and detail services, previously untaxed;
-car repairs, previously untaxed;
-all bottled water, previously untaxed;
-newspapers, previously untaxed;
-snacks (previously untaxed) including cookies, crackers, candy bars, popcorn, and soft drinks; would be an additional 3% to the proposed sales tax, for a total of 10.25%.

Increases current taxes:

-increases state sales tax to 7.25%, one of the highest in the nation;
-vehicle sales tax to 7.35%;
-tax rate on vehicle rentals over 30 days to 7.35%;
-sales tax on boats and motors to 7.35%;
-cigarettes by $1.00, from 41 cents to $1.41;
-tax on all cigars and other tobacco products, such as chew;
-an additional fee of $0.02 per cigarette from small independent tobacco manufacturers.

CSHB3 requires the Comptroller to distribute 15% of any increase in available state revenue, plus the amount distributed in the previous session, to the school districts to ensure future property rate reductions.

CSHB3 requires that a purchaser or grantee of property subject to taxation (e.g., a home or commercial property) must file a Sales Price Disclosure Report with the chief appraiser to allow the chief appraiser to determine true property values. A Disclosure Report would not be required for non-market sales and the bill would prohibit the disclosure of confidential information contained in the report.

CSHB3 would allow communication companies to add a monthly pass-through charge to customers’ bills to recoup the amount they are charged to increase the TIF. CSHB3 would lift the limit on the amount of money that can be assessed on telecommunication utilities. CSHB3 would require that all assessments be deposited in the general revenue fund. The fund was created to advance technology in schools, hospitals, libraries and other public institutions. Last session the TIF was changed to fund the Technology Allotment that is used by schools to purchase electronic text and instructional materials.

State tuition caps may be re-instituted

According to today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Senate Finance Committee is trying to find a way to cap public university tuition rates once again. A proposal that would be tied in with the Senate Appropriations bill, SB 1, by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) would place a voluntary cap at $144 per semester credit hour. Universities may exceed this cap, but they would start to lose state funding if they did so.

University of Texas System Chancellor Mark Yudof sees this proposal as an attack upon UT-Austin, where tuition for the current academic year is floating around that proposed cap. He believes, though, that if this proposal is implemented, then universities would revert to their old ways of gaining revenue in the pre-tuition deregulation fashion: to raise fees while tuiton remains stagnant. Yudof has a point here since this tuition proposal is relatively weak.

However, by tomorrow's bill filing deadline, Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) is expected to file bill for the full rollback of tuition deregulation. He was considering a number of proposals, and he has allegedly selected the one containing the "harshest language" for tuition caps. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) is also expected to file a tuition re-regulation bill, though it's currently unknown as to whether it will only be caps or a full rollback.

HB 2 gets passed out of the House

By a vote of 76-71, Republicans passed HB 2 out of the House last night. I was under the impression that there would be at least a handful of rural Republicans would leave for the vote, but I was proven wrong. But I was right that Grusendorf had the votes - apparently, Democrats like Edwards and Dutton were asked to vote for the bill if need be (if everyone who agreed to vote for HB 2 would have, then the measure would have passed by 79 or 80 votes), but their votes weren't needed. Edwards was one of two representatives who were present but not voting.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

LBB says HB 3 raises taxes on most Texans

From The Quorum Report

$100,600+ Incomes only group to see net tax decrease, poorest see biggest increase

(to understand why, see the regressive taxes included in the bill)

A new analysis [PDF] of the Committee Substitute to House Bill 3 by the Legislative Budget Board shows that low income Texans will see a bigger percentage increase in their taxes than those on higher incomes.

The LBB says that for fiscal year 2007 families earning between $13,415 and $22,833, the percentage increase in taxes will be 5.16 percent. For families earning between $31,735 and $41,463, the percentage increase in taxes will be 4.95 percent.

For families earning between $64,325 and $79,271, the percentage increase in taxes will be 2.66 percent. For families earning between $79,271 and $100,593, the percentage increase in taxes will be 1.65 percent.

Families earning between $100,593 and $140,853 would see a net tax decrease of 0.43 percent. Families earning over $140,853 would see a net tax decrease of 2.88 percent.

The figures are included in a Tax/Fee Equity Note released today by the LBB. The reports final tax incidence shows that for the lowest income level (0 to low $10,000 income range), there is a $111.9 million increase, or 5.6 percent, in fiscal year in 2007.

For the middle income level (low $40,000s to low $50,000 income range), there is a $175.4 million increase, or 4.3 percent, in fiscal year in 2007. For the highest income level (low $140,000 and above), there is a $400.5 million decrease, or 2.9 percent, in fiscal year in 2007.

In other words, the property tax reduction envisioned in HB2 will cost most Texans more taxes than it saves them.

(c) Copyright March 8, 2005 by Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved

Grusendorf claims he has the votes

Yep, Grusendorf says that he enough votes to get HB 2 out of the House. He compromised with rural Republicans who are still apprehensive to the school bill. He got them to agree to vote for it by allocating more money to transportation costs since some routes in West Texas are as long as 90 miles. However, the word on the street is that Grusendorf will want the final vote to only be a majority of the quorum present, not the majority of the house since many rural Republicans are considering walking out when it comes time to vote - thus abstaining from voting. The next few days are sure to be interesting..

The tax bill, HB 3, gets voted to the House floor

Last night in the Ways & Means committee, members considered a payroll tax increase, a snacks tax (read: obesity tax, the first of its kind in the entire country), sales tax increase, motor vehicle sales tax increase, and cigarette tax. All of which were approved when HB 3 was passed out of committee last night, with one approving vote coming from Democrat Mike Villarreal, Vice Chairman of the committee. The final vote was 6-2.

  • The payroll tax would increase from 1.1 percent to 1.15 percent (well, except for insurance companies).

  • The snack tax would be a 3 percent addition to the sales tax on all snacks, which include cookies, candy, chips and soft drinks not consumed in restaurants.

  • The sales tax increase from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent, instead of the original proposal of 7.2 percent.

  • The motor vehicle sales tax increase from 6.25% to 7.35%.

  • The gasoline tax increase of 20 cents.

  • The cigarette tax increase by $1. A PR guy for Phillip Morris said it best in the Houston Chronicle today:

    If the Texas Legislature approves a proposed $1-per-pack increase in the state excise tax on cigarettes, the average price of a carton of cigarettes would increase to $48.74. This would make the average cost of a carton of cigarettes in Texas $8 to $13 higher than bordering states. In addition, the price of a carton of cigarettes would be $35 higher than could be purchased in Mexico.

    At the end of HB 2, there's one little stipulation: that it won't pass unless HB 3 is passed. This doesn't make sense since HB 3 is being dubbed "revenue-neutral;" Tom Craddick says it the best: "We're not going to do a tax bill to fund schools," Dallas Morning News. Wait, what? So these tax increases aren't going to provide money to schools - they're only supposed to offset property tax reductions?

    To save myself from a lengthy post, just read Carlos Guerra's commentary in the San Antonio Express-News today since I agree with most of what he says.

  • Monday, March 07, 2005

    Ban may no longer ban WiFi

    Last week, the Houston Chronicle reported that HB 789, the telecommunications deregulation bill filed by Phil King (R-Weatherford), would ban cities from providing free wireless access. The logic behind this provision was to allow greater competition to phone and internet companies, and having municipal governments providing this service free of charge would go against the ideals of the free market.

    But as the article explained, many lower income residents of the city have benefited from free wireless:

    Melissa Noriega, the acting state representative for the area covered by Technology for All, called the effort to ban municipal participation in wireless Internet efforts "short-sighted," and said she will work to prevent it from becoming law.

    Noriega said families that cannot speak fluent English can be transformed by learning to use a computer and crossing the digital divide — they learn how to spell-check, can find translation services online, e-mail family in their home countries, and much more.

    "This may be the single biggest step we can take to close the gap between the haves and have-nots," she said.

    The City of Austin recently spent millions of dollars installing new wireless across the cities. Many businesses can now provide the service without charge to customer, as evidenced by the signs around town promoting the WiFi.

    At recent meetings of the Regulated Industries committee - who's hearing the bill - many citizens (not companies...) have expressed concern over this provision. King has allegedly re-thought this provision and may introduce either a committee substitute or an amendment to allow cities to provide free WiFi at tomorrow's Regulated Industries committee meeting. But we'll just have to wait to see.

    Bills on state investments

    In the spirit of openness and transparency, Rep. Dan Gattis (R-Georgetown) filed HB 223 to increase public awareness of state investments. "It is the policy of this state that investments of the government are investments of and for the people and the people are entitled to information regarding those investments. The provisions of this section shall be liberally construed to implement this policy."

    Transparency in state decisions is paramount to a democracy, and letting sunlight into state investments is a key step in this. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced the OPEN Government Act using these same principles.

    HB 815 was introduced by Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) to ban state investments in Sudan in light of the military actions in that country, which many are calling genocide. HB 817 was introduced by Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas) a while back on behalf of the AFL-CIO to prevent any state promotion of job outsourcing through investments.