Editorials

How we rate the Texas Legislature on taxes, schools, red-light cameras, Chick-fil-A

Texas governor announces school finance plans

Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that lawmakers have balanced the state’s budget for the next two years, reformed the way Texas schools are funded and crafted ways to slow the growth of property taxes.
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Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that lawmakers have balanced the state’s budget for the next two years, reformed the way Texas schools are funded and crafted ways to slow the growth of property taxes.

Texas’ top elected leaders and legislators routinely get torched for allowing social issues and small concerns to define their biennial sessions. But this year, they made progress on education, taxes and other long-vexing priorities.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans, set the tone by focusing on major concerns. And House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, the Angleton Republican leading the chamber for the first time, drew strong reviews for keeping the House mostly out of divisive squabbles.

Here’s our take on some key steps that lawmakers took:

THUMBS UP

Property taxes and education funding: Several recent legislative sessions have ground to a halt over school finance, and there were plenty of chances for this one to do the same.

But leaders deserve credit for a meaningful first step that will help rein in tax bills even as property appraisals grow, boosts teacher pay and dampens the impact of the state’s Robin Hood share-the-wealth provisions.

As we’ve noted, taxpayers probably won’t see actual tax cuts, and the state could face a serious crunch the next time the economy dips. But the progress is refreshing.

Red-light cameras: This Legislature will be recalled as the group that finally stood up to red-light cameras and the potent financial interests that deploy and protect them.

Installing unthinking cameras to catch and fine alleged red-light violators — without regard to exigent circumstances or the vagaries of yellow-light lengths — was always a constitutionally dicey proposition. Banning them is a victory for the little guy and a line in the sand against the oppressive use of technology on the citizenry.

The “Chick-fil-A bill:” The San Antonio City Council’s attempt to forestall nonexistent discrimination — by banning Chick-fil-A from airport concessions for its support of Christian causes — was actually its own form of religious discrimination.

Fact is, Chick-fil-A doesn’t refuse to either serve or hire members of the LGBTQ community. San Antonio’s action unconstitutionally impinged on the business’ First Amendment rights. And consider why the city took such an ill-considered vote: because Chick-fil-A donated to the likes of — gasp! — the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Smoking: We urge Abbott to sign a measure that would raise the age to buy tobacco products to 21. Any reasonable step against a potential lifelong, dangerous habit is worth taking.

THUMBS DOWN

Tax increase notices: Lawmakers used a last-minute maneuver to provide you less information about property tax increases. As they were finishing the big tax-overhaul measure late Saturday, the House and Senate voted to let local governments post notices of such changes online, rather than in local newspapers. Such notices can easily be buried on sprawling city and county websites that most never see. And where was the debate?

Plumbing regulation: Check your pipes now, because you may not want to have a plumbing disaster after next summer. Somehow, lawmakers let lapse all state regulation of plumbers, whiffing on a bill to keep the State Board of Plumbing Examiners in business. It was a spectacular failure of the “sunset” process, which is designed to periodically review state agencies for efficiency. Lawmakers must make it a priority to fix this leaky mess in 2021.

Income tax amendment: Voters will be asked in November to make it really hard to impose a state income tax. The state Constitution demands a vote of the people to enact such a tax. The new measure would, essentially, require a supermajority of the Legislature, too. Like most Texans, we don’t want an income tax, but this seems like answering a question that no one asked.

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