BG Reads | News You Need to Know (January 8, 2019)
City leaders hold hope of detente with conservative state lawmakers (Austin American-Statesman)
When Gov. Greg Abbott called a special legislative session in 2017, many at Austin City Hall viewed his list of priorities as more than a shot across the capital city’s bow. To them, Abbott had issued an all-out declaration of war.
Two years later, the political leaders of Texas’ largest cities tend to feel a bit more upbeat about legislators’ willingness to go after municipal ordinances that might draw their ire. The rhetoric leading into the 86th legislative session, which opens Tuesday, has been less divisive as state lawmakers appear to have backed away from controversial social issues that led to a tumultuous 2017 session.
Instead, lawmakers appear relatively united in their efforts to tackle school finance and property tax reform, two issues that appear to be inextricable. However, Austin’s city leaders are closely looking at Abbott’s proposed 2.5 percent revenue cap on property taxes, listing it as the No. 1 issue to oppose, they say, because it would cripple cities’ ability to provide basic public services.
“People seem more focused on school finance, and I tell you that is the real need,” Mayor Steve Adler said. “I’ve been talking to the House and the Senate going into this session and it feels different, but only time will tell.”
Larger cities know they will have to play defense during the session. Last month, a local consortium of school officials, elected city and county leaders and state lawmakers met to get on the same page about how to counter Abbott’s revenue cap plan. The legislative liaisons for many of Texas’ urban centers told the American-Statesman that countering Abbott’s plan is their No. 1 priority. They also were optimistic about the outcome.
“My sense is maybe there is a more constructive meaningful look at the most serious challenges,” Adler said. “In past years at this point in time, I was hearing a lot more legislators that were putting me on notice that they were coming after the city…
Adler calls on Council to do ‘big things,’ Garza elected mayor pro tem (Austin Monitor)
Mayor Steve Adler began his new four-year term on an optimistic note, saying that the city is “poised to get some really big things done” when it comes to addressing Austin’s major challenges, notably housing and transportation.
Adler, along with two new members of City Council and three incumbents who were re-elected, took the oath of office Monday evening in Council chambers, which was packed with friends and family of the elected officials being inaugurated.
In his remarks after being sworn in, Adler acknowledged that “government works too slow” but that the new Council is in a position to finally put into action plans that have been working through City Hall for years, even decades.
“Now the cards are aligned for us to be able to move forward,” Adler said…
Task Force Recommends Austin ISD Cut Magnet Programs, Consolidate Schools To Save Money (KUT)
The conversation got heated at times Monday as the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees discussed a new report that recommends ending magnet programs, closing schools and redrawing boundaries as ways to cut spending and increase revenue.
The report comes from a task force made up of 30 AISD staff and community members established to study the district’s budget. The district faces a deficit as enrollment continues to decline. AISD also pays more than half its property taxes back to the state in recapture – more than any other district in the state. To pay for daily operations, it's currently using its reserves, which are set to run out in three years.
The report suggests closing and consolidating schools, though it does not name specific ones. It also lists conditions the district should follow when considering closures…
See also: LINK TO TASK FORCE REPORT
Everything you need to know about the first day of the Texas Legislature (Texas Tribune)
The Texas Legislature will gavel in Tuesday for its 86th regular session, kicking off 140 days of legislative sausage-making in a state that’s home to roughly 28 million people. There will be highs. And there will be lows. But, on the bright side, we have everything you need to know:
The first official act of this year’s #txlege happened yesterday. Comptroller Glenn Hegar has delivered the biennial revenue estimate, telling state lawmakers they will have roughly $120 billion to use in crafting the state’s 2020-21 budget. Hegar’s outlook, as The Texas Tribune’s Edgar Walters reported, was cautiously optimistic — though it did include a few words of caution, thanks to falling oil prices and heightened uncertainty in the U.S. economy.
Today, expect mainly formalities. Both the House and the Senate are set to convene at noon. Members will be sworn into office. In the House, lawmakers will likely elect state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, as the successor to retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio…
Texas House leader-to-be Dennis Bonnen is aggressive, colorful –– and has a lot of different people to please (Dallas Morning News)
For more than a year after Joe Straus announced he would not seek re-election, seven candidates jostled for the chance to replace the five-term speaker of the Texas House.
The group included conservative Republicans set on pushing the chamber more to the right and rectifying the oft-repeated criticism of Straus’ leadership as too lukewarm for their party’s base. It also included several moderate Republicans, Straus allies who pledged to continue leading the House down the path he had set out during his 10-year tenure as its leader. It even included one longshot Democrat. They all made their pitch, traveling the state and meeting with their fellow representatives to no avail. Then, in 14 days last fall, Dennis Bonnen –– who initially declined to run for speaker –– did what the others could not. After being drafted by dozens of Republicans in late October, the Angleton Republican secured enough votes to declare the race finished and began putting his team together for his first term as speaker, which will begin on Tuesday. Bonnen, who first was elected to the House in 1996 at the age of 24, will face daunting tasks as he takes the speaker’s gavel. For years, the state has struggled to fix its much-maligned school finance system. Local property taxes, which have eclipsed state contributions toward the funding of public schools, are skyrocketing for many Texans. And the Legislature will have to grapple, as usual, with demands for more spending than its wallet will allow. On top of that, Bonnen also will have to manage the inner workings of the 150-member House. The 109-member pledge list he presented in November is wide-ranging, including 31 Democrats and nearly all of the tea party-aligned Texas Freedom Caucus, whose interests are at opposite ends of the political spectrum…
Here’s how the federal government shutdown is affecting Texas (Texas Tribune)
Monday marked day 17 of the federal government’s partial shutdown, the long-running result of a stalemate between President Donald Trump and Congress over Trump’s promised border wall. In its third week, the shutdown is now the longest since December 1995, when the federal government stayed closed 21 full days.
Not everything is closed. Law enforcement and mail workers are still on the job; about 75 percent of the government is funded. But operations have been impacted at nine sprawling federal departments, and some 800,000 of the country’s 2.1 million federal workers are not being paid.
What does all that mean for Texas?…
Texas Tomorrow Fund needs $211 million from the next state budget to close shortfall, comptroller says (Texas Tribune)
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar told lawmakers Monday they need to set aside $211 million in the next biennium to cover a projected shortfall in the state’s original prepaid tuition plan, the first time the financially ailing program is expected to see its assets drop below zero.
The money will be paid out of the state’s general revenue fund.
The plan, called the Texas Tomorrow Fund, allowed parents to prepay for their children's college educations, locking in then-current rates for tuition and fees. The program was fully guaranteed by the state, and 158,442 contracts were sold between 1996 and 2003, when the plan was closed and tuition, which had been set by legislators, began to be set by the colleges themselves…
Despite 70,000 Furloughed IRS Workers, White House Vows Refunds Will Be Issued (KUT)
One of the agencies affected by the partial government shutdown — now in its third week — is the Internal Revenue Service. While many taxpayers may not feel this is a great loss, they'll still have to pay their taxes — and the shutdown has created a good deal of uncertainty for everyone planning to file their tax returns in the coming months.
But fear not, the White House says; tax refund checks will be sent out, even though the IRS, part of the Treasury Department, is for the most part closed.
Office of Management and Budget acting Director Russell Vought told reporters Monday that tax refunds will go out, contrary to previous government shutdown policies.
"We have tried to make this as painless as possible, consistent with the law," he said.
It's not clear, however, how it will happen smoothly, given the 70,000 IRS employees who are furloughed…
Democrats pledge to paralyze Senate as shutdown negotiation tactic (Washington Post)
Senate Democrats are coalescing behind a strategy to block any legislation on the floor that doesn’t re-open the federal government — planning to paralyze the Senate as the partial government shutdown enters its third week with no end in sight.
Privately, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) has told the rest of his caucus that he would vote against advancing the first bill on the Senate floor this year, which would authorize security assistance to Israel and include provisions aimed at promoting security in the Middle East. Democrats plan to vote against the measure to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to pass legislation funding the government, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss party strategy. House Democrats last week passed legislation that would reopen the government but deny President Trump any of the money he is demanding for a new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But Trump has said he will not sign the measure, and McConnell has repeatedly said the Senate won’t advance legislation the president won’t support. A growing coalition of Senate Democrats — hailing primarily from states that have a large population of federal workers, as well as the contingent of senators eyeing presidential bids in 2020 — say the chamber should not vote on anything else until the shutdown ends…
Today's BG Podcast features a conversation with Rodney Gonzales, then Director of Austin’s Development Services Department (DSD). The department was created in 2015 to handle residential and commercial permitting issues separately from zoning issues.
Rodney discusses his background and path to DSD, and current department initiatives with Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham.
Recorded on December 18, 2018, it was announced on December 21 that Rodney was promoted to Assistant City Manager for Economic Opportunity and Affordability.
This role will expand his coverage beyond development services to include a range of issues such as: resources for small and minority-owned businesses; neighborhood housing and community development; telecommunications; regulatory affairs; and the Austin Convention Center.
We wish him good luck in the new role!