Bud Kennedy

Lawmakers see victory in tax cuts, budget deal after slow start

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chair of the Finance Committee, celebrates after a preliminary budget bill was passed April 14.
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chair of the Finance Committee, celebrates after a preliminary budget bill was passed April 14. AP

Believe it or not, the Texas Legislature is actually doing some good work.

Near the end of a frantic session filled with hidden-video hysteria and Tea Party hissy fits, the Lege defied all predictions by settling on a budget and accomplishing a few reasonable goals.

Rookie Gov. Greg Abbott set out a basic to-do list, and lawmakers got most of it done. The budget going back to lawmakers for a final vote includes new preschool funding, doubles spending for border security, funds university research and improves the way Texas finances transportation.

After some wailing and a few staredowns, Abbott and lawmakers not only can claim success but even brag over both a business tax cut and a small residential property tax cut.

“This is absolutely a conservative budget,” said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, in his ninth term representing Parker and Wise counties.

In the end, lawmakers hung up on whether to cut homeowners’ property taxes, or the sales tax for everybody.

That was settled, King guessed, about May 1, when homeowners opened the mail to find their new, higher tax appraisals.

“That made a property tax cut a lot more attractive,” he said.

If you’re scoring that as a victory for new Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and budget writer Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, then score the business tax cut a victory for House Speaker Joe Straus and Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

The proposed budget cuts business franchise taxes 25 percent for everybody, instead of exempting businesses taking in less than $4 million.

(If all small businesses were exempted, why become a big business?)

Nelson, the senior senator representing much of Tarrant County, set practical goals in her first session as chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee.

At the final conference committee hearing, she said her original mission was to sustain Texas’ economic success, invest more in education ($1.5 billion, although less than the House proposal) and respond to transportation and border security needs.

Oh — and pass a tax cut.

“We have done all these things and then some,” she said, describing the budget as “responsible. … It is compassionate.”

If you didn’t notice, most of the infighting wasn’t over money.

A sideshow erupted late over a secretive political activist group sending hidden-video crews into the Capitol to stalk and bait lawmakers. But maybe that spurred them to work and avoid a special session.

For first-term Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, it was a year to brag about.

“It’s a good thing in Texas when we’re arguing about which taxes to cut,” he said.

“I’m happy. We can provide tax relief for businesses and homeowners. We’re under the constitutional spending limit, and we still added some money for education. And all without a special session.”

King said the bumpy start was typical for new leaders.

“It took everyone a while to get into rhythm,” he said.

Not only were Abbott and Patrick new, but they also had new staff members learning new jobs, he said.

“I’m really proud of everybody,” he said.

Other proposals were “not top-tier issues,” he said. “I think the top-tier issues were all worked out.”

I’m not sure this Legislature isn’t just worn out.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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