Bud Kennedy

Tarrant lawmakers talk budget and tax cuts, both if and how

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, center, answers a luncheon question from Texas Association of Business executive Bill Hammond as rookie state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, looks on.
State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, center, answers a luncheon question from Texas Association of Business executive Bill Hammond as rookie state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, looks on. Star-Telegram

State Sen. Kelly Hancock’s résumé lists a business degree, a career as a chemical executive and four terms in the Texas Legislature.

Fellow state Sen. Konni Burton’s budget experience mostly involves managing a family’s needs, without benefit of Texas’ $8 billion rainy-day fund.

Both will be speaking for Tarrant County beginning Tuesday in the Legislature, where budgeting is mostly left to senior lawmakers.

As promised, Burton will have something to say about that.

The Colleyville Republican told business leaders Tuesday that she wants Texas to dedicate new car sales taxes solely to highways, reduce business and property taxes, and begin each state budget debate at zero instead of arguing how much more to spend.

“I want to defend the taxpayers,” she said, sticking to positions she staked during the campaign for state Sen. Wendy Davis’ seat.

Hancock and Texas Association of Business executive Bill Hammond, host for the luncheon forum at Joe T. Garcia’s, basically said it’s not that simple.

Texas banks $4 billion a year in new car sales taxes, so dedicating that only to highways would leave a chunk of the budget to fill another way. And Texas doesn’t have many ways.

Even the idea of phasing in a dedicated fund failed last session.

“Taking [the $4 billion] away is not something that is going to be popular or accepted,” said Hancock, a North Richland Hills Republican and member of the Finance Committee now led by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

The slower phase-in is more likely to pass, he said.

Hammond asked Burton twice if the state can afford to dedicate a special fund or to reduce taxes.

She said that she wants to and that she’ll be “fighting” in Austin for a dedicated highway fund.

Hancock’s answers sounded more like those of a fifth-term lawmaker and influential senior senator.

He answered questions with “I don’t know yet” and “I sure hope so.”

Much of the uncertainty revolves around sinking oil prices and energy revenue.

Afterward, Burton noted accurately that the uncertainty only makes her point: “You should always think cautiously when you don’t know how much money is coming in.”

Hammond, a former Texas House lawmaker from Dallas, remembered his rookie House campaign in 1982.

The Dallas Morning News sent him a long questionnaire about the state budget and finance.

He wrote back: “How do you expect me to know the answers to these questions? I haven’t even gone down there yet.”

He knew how much he didn’t know.

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

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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