Amarillo Senator is the “man on the bubble” for key state policy

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill capping the growth of local governments is short by one vote to come to the floor of the Texas Senate and Amarillo Senator Kel Seliger could hold the key. Seliger is the only Republican Senator publicly opposed to the idea.

SB 2 would require an election if a local government collects more than 2.5 percent in property taxes from the year before. Author of the bill Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and the presiding officer of the Senate, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, have said they have 18 supporters, but need 19. 

This isn’t the first time he’s bucked the Senate Republican leadership.

SB 2 has been one of the defining issues so far of the 86th legislative session. Governor Greg Abbott, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick seek to limit the growth of local property taxes.

The bill quickly passed a Senate committee despite overwhelming opposition from local elected leaders, fearing it would cut into public safety.

“To assume that property taxes are only important to certain members here because you adhere to a certain piece of legislation— nothing can be more false,” said Sen. Seliger, R-Amarillo, “There’s a lot of different ways to get there. I happen to get there by listening to locally elected officials, regardless of what some people in this building think, they are some of the most dedicated and capable people in the state of Texas.”

Seliger was the Mayor of Amarillo before elected to the state senate in 2004. His priorities haven’t changed much he says: making sure West Texas gets its fair share of resources for roads, public schools, higher education, and mental health.

Over the years, statewide politics have changed around him. State leaders are more often looking to overrule cities and counties.

Man on the bubble

Seliger often sides with locals on limits to property taxes, resources for schools, ridesharing ordinances for companies like Uber and Lyft, and red light camera bans.

“One of the things that we don’t want to do in the Texas legislature, I think, is obsolve people of the responsibility of going to vote for the people who represent you locally. It’s the most responsive form of government to a very great extent,” said Sen. Seliger, “Locally, we have the government we deserve based on the people we vote for or the people we don’t vote for.” 

Executive Editor of the Texas Tribune, Ross Ramsey, says Seliger is viewed this session as the “man on the bubble.” 

“You have to have 19 votes. When that’s a partisan matter, you need all the Republicans and you need 19 of them,” said Ramsey, “So that puts any given Republican in the position of saying I’m for this or I’m against this. And given his situation ideologically and his the tension between him and the Lt. Governor, that generally puts Seliger in the decision making position of whether something is going to go or not.” 

Scrap with Lt. Governor Patrick

Sen. Seliger and Lt. Governor Patrick’s relationship has simmered for a few years, but boiled over into public view earlier this year. 

Patrick did not re-appoint Seliger to chair the powerful Higher Education Committee, putting him atop the Agriculture committee instead.

“I made those decisions based on a number of factors,” Patrick said when asked at a press event. He did not elaborate. 

When Seliger spoke against that decision, calling it retribution for sticking up for local officials over the wants of Patrick, an advisor to Patrick, Sherry Sylvester, said if Seliger didn’t like his new position, the Lt. Governor’s team could appoint someone else to the remaining places he held. 

Then, Seliger said this on the radio.

“It’s really unbecoming for the member of the staff, the Lt. Governor’s or my staff. ” Seliger said on the radio at the time, “I didn’t say anything of the sort. That assertion is disingenuous and I have a recommendation for Mrs.Sylvester and her lips and my back end.” 

Calling that comment “lewd” and it “shocked everyone”, Patrick stripped Seliger of all his leadership positions, as well.

Patrick went on to call Seliger a “corrosive force” in the legislature in an interview with the Dallas Morning News

“Everything begins, really, on policy. Largely, policy. Once again, fundamental disagreements and I’m always going to come down on the side of the people I represent, the people who sent me here,” said Seliger in an interview with KXAN.

People in Amarillo and Midland district continue to send Seliger to Austin. In 2018, he defeated not one, but two opponents in the Republican primary— former Midland Mayor Mike Cannon and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal.

While political trends change across the state, Seliger remains. 

“Really, I’m a Reagan, small government person. Call it a localist,” said Sen. Seliger. “There’s nothing new about me when it comes to a basic conservative philosophy, nothing.”

As for property taxes, Senator Seliger has his own idea. Instead of capping the revenue local governments can collect, his SB 1086 caps the growth of your appraisal at 5 percent from last year.
He says that idea will go further in relieving property taxpayer’s burden while not putting new burdens on the cities, counties, and school districts. 

SB 1086 has been filed, but has no co-authors and has not been referred to committee. 

Lawmakers must pass all bills into law by the end of May. 

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