AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill that aimed to derail Project Connect, Austin’s massive transportation plan, was killed in the regular session. But lobbyists and attorneys behind the “No Blank Checks” bill believe legal challenges are still likely in the future.
“I feel confident that we’re going to celebrate that Austin gets the light rail that its people want,” Mayor Kirk Watson said Tuesday. But Watson also said legal challenges were likely to be part of the project’s future.
HB 3899 aimed “to ensure local government corporations in Texas follow the same rules as cities and counties when issuing debt backed by property taxes,” a release said.
Under the bill, any local government corporation created through a tax rate increase election would be required to abide by the same rules cities and counties do when issuing debt. In the case of the Austin Transit Partnership — the organization created to oversee Project Connect — HB 3899 would apply to any debt they issue in the future for the transit program.
“I worked with them in good faith to see if we could fix the bill in such a way that it was fair to those Austin voters who had made their decision and ultimately when it wasn’t we worked to kill the bill,” Watson said.
A lobbyist behind the bill said they’re doing everything they can to get it tied to the special session, but to get it done it would have to directly tie it to the governor’s agenda.
“And our argument is that without fixing this problem, all the efforts up here to provide property tax relief to people will fall short because this is a loophole in state tax law that, no pun intended, you can drive a train through,” Brian Thornton, Granite Dome Solutions lobbyist, said.
KXAN also asked Rep. Ellen Troxclair (R-Lakeway), she was one of the authors of the bill, if she intended to bring the legislation forward again.
“Further legislation to ensure government at all levels is clear and accountable to taxpayers will remain at the forefront of my efforts in the House,” she said.
Attorney General opinion
Mayor Watson said the attorney general’s opinion simply gave them a guide for legally moving forward.
“I anticipate that there will be legal challenges and that’s part of the process that we just accept will probably be there,” Watson said.
“The fix that they think will work for them, I’m not sure that it will satisfy the office of the attorney general and it’s certainly going to raise concerns in the bond market,” Thornton countered.