State of Texas: In-Depth – Cutting taxes and leaving the Lege

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — “It just shows how much the economy has been hurting in Texas.” Aman Batheja covers the Legislature for the Texas Tribune and this week on State of Texas: In-Depth, he’s tracking the impact of a report that shows state lawmakers will have a lot less money to spend next session. The Legislative Budget Board report sets tight limits on spending as lawmakers prepare to fight for funding in the state’s next budget.

“The spending cap is in the [state] constitution, and it basically says that the state can’t grow its budget faster than the economy is growing,” Batheja explained. The report set the cap for lawmakers at 8 percent, down significantly from the previous session.  And that’s not the only budget challenge. “Last session, they went in with $7 billion left over from the previous session. This year, there is going to be significantly less left over,” Batheja said. “So it is just going to be more of a belt-tightening session.”

The spending cap report came in the same week a state lawmaker filed a bill that aims to cut property tax rates for many Texans. Senate Bill 2 calls for new restrictions on the ability of local appraisal districts to raise taxes. “As [property] values go up, tax rates never come down,” said bill sponsor State Sen. Paul Bettancourt, R-Houston. “So values increase year to year, and if tax rates don’t decrease then tax bills escalate by the same amount.”

But some mayors warn Bettancourt’s plan could put city services at risk. “If this goes forward, it would limit the amount, the percentage each year that cities could raise property taxes,” said KUT City Reporter Audrey McGlinchy. Austin’s mayor said it could cost the city more than $15 million. McGlinchy says leaders from Austin and other cities will likely lobby against SB 2 at the Capitol. “I think Austin and also San Antonio and a bunch of other cities have come out and said we couldn’t do this.”

As lawmakers prepare to battle over tax cuts and the budget, one long time House member is preparing for life beyond the legislature. Democrat Elliott Naishtat is retiring after more than 26 years in the Texas House. “A lot has changed,” Naishtat told State of Texas host Josh Hinkle. Austin voters first elected Naishtat in 1990, the same year Ann Richards won the race for governor. “Ann Richards was more in line with my progressive values,” Naishtat said. “With Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, it’s been really tough…”  As he prepares to leave the legislature, Naishtat offers advice to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. “I tell Democrats to hang in there,” he said. “With Republicans, I would say try to keep in mind that there are populations in Texas that occasionally need help from their government, and please don’t lose sight of that.”

You can watch State of Texas: In-Depth Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. on KXAN.

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