Local business leaders, elected officials and community leaders at Austin College received an update on the past legislative session and issues affecting the economy Friday morning at the Texas Legislative Luncheon.
The event, now in its 10th year, was presented the North Texas Young Professionals and the Sherman Chamber of Commerce. For the event, state Rep. Larry Phillips, state Sen. Craig Estes and Texas Association of Business CEO Jeff Moseley spoke on issues ranging from property tax reform to imminent domain concerns.
“The purpose of this event is to give our two representatives, Larry Phillips and Craig Estes, an opportunity to give an update on the past legislative session, how it was handled, what was accomplished and what was not,” Sherman Chamber of Commerce President Eddie Brown said.
For Phillips, this will be the past legislative luncheon he attends as a state representative after he announced plans not to seek re-election earlier this year.
“We’ve done some pretty cool stuff, and we’ve done that together,” he said, recalling his time in office. “We have some city folks here, some county folks here, people with our public education system, community college. We’ve done some great stuff, and we’ve done it together.”
Friday’s conversations started with a discussion of the current political landscape facing conservative legislators. Brett Graham, who is on the board of directors for TAB, said he and other members met recently to go over score cards from the previous session that were conducted by the organization. The cards outlined lawmakers’ performances and voting record on issues related to Texas business and the economy.
“In the 20 years I’ve been with the organization, it was the first time I’ve seen a Republican at the bottom of the list,” he said. “A Republican was under a representative who is under indictment from the … Austin.”
Graham said there is a growing group who claim conservative beliefs but take an anti-business stance. As an example of this Moseley said there were 25 bills against eminent domain use in this latest session. Moseley said eminent domain can be used to help secure infrastructure and public improvements.
Moseley went on to say that many of these representatives do not hold traditional Republican values and instead are closer to libertarian in ideology. These representatives have expressed views against private-public partnerships and other governmental acts.
“As a state of 28 million, growing to 50 million, we need all the tools in the tool chest to continue to grow,” he said.
“For many years we were able to take for granted that the Texas legislature was going to be pro-business,” Graham added. “Those days are over apparently.”
As an example of this shift, Estes said he is friends with a political science professor who organizes another score card for legislators. Under this score card, he is able to gauge how much a lawmaker’s stance changes over time. Estes said under this system his stance has not shifted much since he took office.
“He said, ‘When you got in you were about the third most conservative,’” Estes said. “Now, you are in the middle of the pack.”
Conversation soon shifted to discussions on school finance reform, and the role of the state in funding public schools. Estes said he thinks that reforms to the school finance are possible and could save property owners money in taxes. As a part of this, Estes said the number of districts could be revised, with some smaller districts merging, and some larger districts being split into smaller parts.
Phillips said there was a hypocrisy in the way schools are funded. The state has relied on local property taxes to fund a greater portion of school expenses, relying on the increases in property appraisals and tax revenue to do so.
However, in the latest session, Phillips said there was a bill set forward that would require a rollback election if the tax revenues for a municipality went up more than 4 percent. Current laws set the bat at 8 percent before a rollback election is required.
“So what is happening at the state level is we are having to fund less of public education,” Phillips said. “Well, when people are beating their chest about keeping state education funding down they are relying on appraisal creep too.”