Travis County

Agenda Item

Consider and take appropriate action on legislative matters, including:

a. Update on organization of the 86th Legislature
b. Status of Travis County Legislative Priorities
(Judge Eckhardt)


Department:CC Agenda requestSponsors:
Category:General Government

Meeting History

Feb 12, 2019 9:00 AM Video Commissioners Court Voting Session
draft Draft

Members of the Court heard from:

Deece Eckstein, Intergovernmental Relations Officer, Intergovernmental Relations Office (IGR)

Alan Miller, Assistant Budget Director, PBO

Jessica Rio, County Executive, PBO



Feb 12, 2019 9:00 AMVideo (Windows Media) MP4 VideoCommissioners CourtVoting Session

10:14 AMThank you for toughing it out and skyping in when you were so, so sick. Really, that kind of dedication is really to be lauded. Thank you so much.
She's still wearing her parka.
I know. we'll be gentle with you. The consent motion, my proposed consent motion includes c1-4, 7, 10, 13, 14, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28.

10:15 AMMove approval of consent.
All those in favor? that passes unanimously. Next, let's go to agenda item number 11.
Judge, I just want clarification.
Yes, sir.
We've already voted out number 8?
Okay. just making sure.
No problem. number 11 is to consider and take appropriate action on legislative matters including a update on organization of the 86th legislature and b. Status of travis county legislative priorities.
Good morning, Judge Eckhardt and members of the court. Commissioner Shea, it's nice to see you back. We do have an interesting report to give to you this morning, but first I wanted to take a moment to apologize for a mistake I made last week. We had our two legislative associates down here. I never took the time to introduce them. I want to recognize them, alexis and anamie, if they would please stand up and just -- they have been working very hard and helping us very much with legislative visits, with bill analyses and with everything else. And I brought them down here specifically last week so I could recognize them, and then completely forgot to do so.
10:16 AMLegislative internship ever. [ laughing ]
Well, you know, the advantage is they get to learn about the texas legislature and county government at the same time, so they are a double threat when they leave here.
You've got the alpha and the omega.
And the a team.
Traumatized. [ laughing ]
They're doubly traumatized, yes, that's a good point. So our word of the week this week is the blocker bill. And we'll tell you why in a little bit. But the blocker bill is now an important part of our lexicon here at igr and here in the county. What I want to do is brief you on the senate bill two, which is the revenue caps bill. There was a hearing on it last week. And there was another hearing -- there was a hearing on it last week at which the majority of the witnesses that testified, including many local government elected officials, testified against the bill. There was another hearing of the committee yesterday, the property tax committee, at which 15 amendments were adopted. And then the bill was voted out and is now on its way to the senate floor. I want to talk with you for a little bit about some of the kind of key provisions or the overall concepts behind the bill. And then I want to just brief you on some of the amendments that were adopted yesterday which had the effect of making what we think is a bad bill even worse. So first of all, what the bill does -- of course it establishes a 2. 5% revenue cap down from the current 8%. That cap applies to all -- what's called taxing units and is differentiated from small taxing units who have combined sales and property tax revenue of less than $15 million. So obviously somebody like travis county, most of the other governing entities here in the county, actually would be large taxing units. Certainly most of the cities, many of the school districts, the county itself, the healthcare district obviously, acc would all be large taxing units. The small taxing units would tend to be some of the smaller esds, small cities, and very small school districts. What it does for everyboy is compress the appraisal process in a way that the appraisal district -- the chief appraisers and the appraisal districts are working with the legislature to try to smooth out some of the rough edges on that. But the goal of that compressed process is to get an appraisal roll to you all earlier. And the reason why they want it earlier is that under the bill, if you plan to adopt a tax rate that will exceed the rollback rate of 2. 5%, you must adopt it by august 15th. So that moves up six weeks from the current timetable that this court uses. And, of course, that backs up pbo, that backs up all the departments. That backs up the whole budgeting process for the county, which as you know in this county we take very seriously. So it requires you to set that by august 14th. There are some real challenges to that. There was an amendment added yesterday that would require small taxing units, who are now under an 8% revenue cap, to hold an election to elect whether or not to be under a 2. 5% revenue cap. They must go to the voters and say we're at 8% now, but if you vote yes, we will be capped at 2. 5%. They must hold that election in May of 2020. The ballot proposition must say do you want the revenue cap or the rollback rate to be 8%, or do you want it to be 2. 5%. So we can probably imagine what most voters are going to want to do in that situation. All those elections must be held in May of 2020. So there will be some considerable confusion under that provision. In addition -- (coughing) -- excuse me. The bill calls for centralizing control and oversight of appraisal districts in the comptroller's office. We're going to see a level of state supervision and oversight from appraisal districts that we have not seen before. [ coughing ] excuse me.
10:21 AMWas th there any explanation in the amendment about how that would work?
What would happen is, actually, there's several pages in the bill that detail it, commissioner. but it would set up an appraisal tax policy review board or something. I forget the name of it. [ coughing ] excuse me. I really get choked up about this. That would oversee, in the comptroller's office, and sort of set standards for appraisal districts, that would do reviews of appraisal districts. Right now the comptroller already does that. They do a basic validation test on a regular basis to see that the appraisals they are putting out match up industry standards and fit within for a broad range of what we think would be appropriate appraisals. So the comptroller already checks the homework of appraisal districts. This would establish even more oversight by the comptroller's office on appraisal districts in order to centralize, sort of, the state oversight of what appraisal districts are doing. I don't know how much this would affect a big appraisal district like ours, but it will essential affect some of the smaller ones in more rural parts of the state. The fiscal note on the bill -- on the filed version of the bill -- ana fiscal note yet on the amendments that were adopted yesterday. But the fiscal note on the filed version of the bill analyzes first of all the impact on school districts, because there's a presumption -- and by the way, when members of the senate are talking about this presumption, there's sort of a wink, you know, trust us on this that if you put school districts under a 2. 5% revenue cap there's going to be a loss of billions of dollars of revenues to the school districts. And the assumption or the presumption is that the state will back-fill that money by putting more money into the school districts. Now, the house is actively working on trying to find more money and put more money into our school system in order to fix our school finance system. The senate has not yet taken up that subject. So that's why I say that when you ask them about this bill where the fiscal note itself says the cost to school districts and to the state cannot be estimated, the answer that is given is, trust us about that. We're going to do the right thing. However, they were able to estimate the cost to counties. And the cost to counties over the next five years is estimated to be $1. 142 billion. The cost to cities is estimated at $1. 2 billion. The cost to all the other special districts, again, think about m. U. D. S, think about water control improvement districts, I think about esds, the cost to them over the next five years, $564 million estimated. So what the comptroller has gained out is a significant loss of revenue to local government entities as a result of this bill. Obviously there will be a loss of revenue to the schools, which hopefully the state will make up. But they can't even estimate the size of that. So the fiscal note is going to be very significant for counties and specifically for us. I know that the pbo people are working up some numbers about what the predicted loss to us would be if we were capped at 2. 5%. So a number of those kind of issues are going to be worked out. I intend to make a presentation to the court next week to talk about, in more detail, about the impact of revenue caps and why they would not be a good idea. There's also some procedural things in there. There are, for instance, some industries who, in a litigated dispute with an appraisal district over the appraisal of their property would be able to deny the appraisal district some information about how they make their revenue, or how their property makes their revenue. So, again, this is sort of a special interest sort of thing. So there's a lot of that that got put into the amendments yesterday. So that bill now has passed out of the committee and is on its way to the senate floor. The reason I mention the blocker bill is because the senate -- under the rules of the senate, you must have 19 votes in order to bring a bill to the floor of the senate. So there's a procedural process by which you have to get a certain supermajority of the members of the senate, 60% of them, 19 votes, to bring a bill to the floor of the senate. At the heart of that procedural process is a thing called the blocker bill. So what happens is that the first bill passed out of committees in the senate and put on the senate's calendar are a bill and a constitutional amendment that are called the blocker bill. The blocker bill is a bill about the county parks beautification program. The intent of the blocker bill is that the blocker bill will never pass. It's simply there to block the calendar because procedurally the senate must then sustain a motion to take up and consider another bill out out of order. Because the senate's order is that the blocker bill is number one. So they must take up and consider the bill out of order. And in order to do that, that's why they need the 60% vote. So the rumor or the conversation is -- and it's been reported in the papers, been reported in the quorum report -- is that they don't have the 19 votes to bring this bill to the floor. So the senate May pass the blocker bill, for the first time in memory, thus moving it out of the way, thus allowing other bills to come up in the regular order of business, which can be called up at any time and don't require any kind of supermajority to take them up. So depending on how all that happens, that bill could come up as early as Wednesday of this week, or maybe the first part of next week. So we're keeping an eye, obviously, on that. We're working closely with the conference of urban counties, the texas association of counties and with the texas municipal league and other local government groups to try to lay out for legislators around the state what the concerns are about the bill. And we have been working closely and communicating with our senators. As you know, we have four in our delegation, senator watson, campbell, buckingham and zefrini, and we've been trying to get information to them if we can about the bill. So that's been the main focus of our efforts during the last week.
10:28 AMCan I ask something really quickly? Do we have a fiscal note on that bill?
Well, we have a fiscal note on the final version of the bill and that's the one that says that over five years it would cost counties -- excuse me -- it would cost counties $1. 142 billion.
Because what i'm really interested in is the revenue impact on constitutionally and statutorily mandated responsibilities for the county, because I know it's going to have a big impact from a revenue standpoint. But i'm really interested in the things that are mandated that we do and how this might impact those from a fiscal standpoint.
10:29 AMWell, as you know and the court discussed last week, we support trying to do unfunded mandates reform. And the court voted unanimously last week to support a resolution in support of senator buckingham's sjr10 which would limit mandates and also hr30 in the house which would limit mandates. Obviously this bill has nothing to do with unfunded mandates. There's no protection or limitation on them contained in this bill. This bill lowers our revenue without lowering the needs of the communities we serve or the mandates that the state gives us about how we have to serve them.
10:30 AMAll right. just wanted to get that in.
I appreciated the description of really the false promise that's being made by the leadership on these revenue caps proposals. It would be the equivalent of five big macs a year for people, for the county? It would be the equivalent of five big macs a year in savings on people's county tax bill. And I am appalled at the dishonesty around the school finance portion of this, because my understanding is that while they are pushing for a 2. 5% revenue cap on the school districts, doesn't their budget assume something like a 6. 5% property tax increase by school districts?
That is built into the appropriations request from the tea and again, neither chamber has addressed that and said no, you're not going to raise your taxes that much. Instead, we're going to inject more money into the system. So I give the house credit for their working on it. The house education committee, public education committee has already held several hearings. They've been talking about school finance and how to fix it. The senate education committee met last week. They did not bring up the subject of school finance then. They talked about assessment goals and the various tests that are used in their hearing, which was more of an organizational hearing. But they have not yet, sort of, taken on the task of figuring out what to do about school finance.
10:31 AMAnd your property taxes are -- school is the lion's share of property taxes. Someone wrote a great editorial on that. They are misleading people by pretending that the revenue caps for the local governments would save people meaningful tax dollars when they refuse to pay their fair share on school taxes, on the school funding. And the whole process to me is just appalling.
10:32 AMI do want to give a shoutout to Judge Whitley of tarrant county, a republican county Judge Of long standing and deep, deep reputation who was really the most effective mouthpiece at illuminating the presumption in the previous biennium that there would be a 14% increase in local property taxes to pay for public education that would alleviate the responsibility of state lawmakers in appropriately funding public education. So, big shoutout to our colleague Judge Whitley in tarrant county. He's a cpa. He knows his numbers. And he plowed through that -- you know, that budget bill and looked at every page and found the -- basically the smoking gun of presumption of increased local property taxes. The reliance on the presumption of increased local property taxes. I do think that that message has been heard loud and clear at the legislature for this session with regard to public education. And I do have some hope that they now, having been found out for having relied upon increasing property taxes to meet their public education obligations under the texas constitution, they are now unwilling to let go of a really tasty political boogeyman, which is the issue of local property taxes. I could not agree with you more that the issue really is their reliance on the locals to fund their gap. But having recognized or no longer being able to play the game with regard to public education, they continue to play the game with us. We are filling their gap, assuredly in transportation, in indigent defense, in parkland, in affordable housing, in health and human services, and in so many other unfunded or underfunded mandates at county government. We'll keep working.
10:34 AMAnd judge, if I can follow up on Commissioner Shea's comment about the big macs, we have talked to our counterparts at the city, at the healthcare district, and at acc. So many people who live in the, sort of, central part of the city have aisd, city, county, healthcare district and acc. So we've talked to everybody except the school district and we're still putting all these numbers together. But it looks like the average homeowner's savings from those four entities this year would be $87. 95. So we don't know what -- the school district people are still giving us the numbers that they have about -- they would have an increase. They're trying to calculate what a 2. 5% cap would do to them in terms of lost revenue. But it is -- you know, I would only say, as I think everybody on the court has said at one point or another, that really if we address school finance then we have the opportunity to give people some property tax relief. If if -- we don't address school finance then everything that could be done to us is going to be loose.
10:36 AMAnd the major contributing factor in the crisis that's unfolding in the austin independent school district that's forcing them to examine closing -- I think more than a dozen schools -- is what's, I think, misleadingly called recapture by the state. The state never had the right to come in and take our local property tax funds for our schools. They never had any right to it in the first place. So they're not coming in and recapturing it. It's theft. And i'm furious about it. And I feel like we need to have a really, starkly honest conversation in the community about the harm that it's doing and their refusal to address it.
Yes, sir.
Let me take a little different angle on this. What I do fear and opine on this, deece, whenever you want. I do think that most people think that the state fully intends to do something with public school financing.
10:37 AMMmhmm.
Quite --
And gratitude should go to them for that.
Now, what that's going to be, we don't know. But I do think that when they do that, that they are really going to be serious about revenue caps. Because my read on this thing is if we're going to get to the table and we're going to take state dollars and we're going to really get in the game of -- I don't know whether it would be 50/50, that would be great for us if they would do that. But I do think that if they do that they're going to go, you needn't show up and talk to us about complaining about revenue caps. And the reason I think that that sells is because if you go -- I mean, if the five of us went today and asked 50 people at the grocery store, you know, which is kind of where most people have to go on a daily basis or at least a few times a week, and you ask people just the basic question do you think your taxes are too high? I bet you that we would come back and the overwhelming majority would be yes. When we ask people that question, are their taxes too high. So there's a deal here that pulls against, you know, each other because, you know, all of us scratch our heads wondering how do the committee members not get the fact that 95%, 98% of the people that come and talk to them whenever there's a committee hearing about caps is that they're against it? So it really is mind-boggling to people. Now, it's always entertaining to read about big macs, you know, and I can't complain about that. I think you eloquently, you know -- you've learned well from me about throwing out those crazy things where people go what did he mean by that? It's insignificant, you know. Five big macs or whatever. But, you know, we do have a problem on our hands. I mean, because -- I mean, my read in just my talking to the people over there, I think they do think what I just, you know, mentioned. Tell me -- I mean, you know, with the four senators, you've got two rs and you've got two ds, not to make it sound partisan. I mean, maybe you haven't asked them outright, but you probably have an idea. Would that be the two feel this way about the revenue caps and two feel this way about the revenue caps? I mean, I would think that that's the case, but maybe i'm wrong. I mean, read this thing for me, deece. What would you think that our four senators out of this area, are they different?
10:40 AMI think they'd split two and two.
I think they are split two and two.
And you know, you've said this before. Part of the problem of the appeal of revenue caps is it fits on a bumper sticker. We'll just artificially suppress the taxes that your local governing bodies can collect without suppressing the demands that you put upon them and the level of services you expect from them. You know, it fits on a bumper sticker and it's very hard to argue against. And I think the court has set a great example of any time we can give tax money back to the taxpayers, we do. The court has a terrific record of holding down property tax increases. I think we went through a streak there where essentially the actual tax bills for people were level or even went down a little bit. So this court has a terrific -- in my opinion -- has a terrific record to go to the people about and to go to our legislators and make the claim that within the limits of the expectations that the legislature and our citizens have of us, and the mandates that they put upon us, we try to do a good job of managing their money and keep their tax burden as low as we can. But, you know, the bumper sticker is very appealing.
10:42 AMAlan, we have reduced the tax rate six years in a row?
That's correct. the tax rate, because of the variations of the effective tax rate, does typically go down each year due to the increasing of property values. The overall travis county has been very reasonable. I came up here to mention that we will be going into these in a great deal of detail next week when we present the budget guidelines to commissioners court. And travis gatling, our budget director, can speak much better than I can on these particular issues. And that will be part of next week's presentation related to it. But, yes, our property taxes have typically gone -- the rate has gone down. The rate of growth for the county has been around 4% over the last -- 4. 5%.
Whereas the growth of the economy has been much greater than that.
10:43 AMSignificantly higher, yes. and we feel that we have been providing the services that are requested by the constituents. And it's very difficult to do that at anything close to the effective tax rate.
I believe when I took office in 2008 -- is that right, 2008? Or 2006? I can't remember. I think we were around 51 cents per hundred dollar valuation. We're now down under 30 cents. And for I believe fiscal year 15, 16 and 17 we were actually able to reduce the tax impact on the average taxpayer. I think we were probably the only local government in the state of texas that was. And I would love to crow about that, but frankly I think we're an outlier because of our tremendous new property growth that came on the rolls during that period. So we were just doing what we do. And the net result was a reduction in the average tax bill for a travis county resident. As we go into the budget discussion next week, I think it would be good -- I have heard complaints that those of us who are advocating against the tax cap at the legislature have talked a lot about how many peace officers the cut represents. And i've heard complaints that that's not a great measuring stick, because undoubtedly if you were living under a 2. 5 you wouldn't take it all in peace officers. So over the course of the next few weeks i'd love -- just as an exercise -- hopefully it will only be a hypothetical -- for us to come up with scenarios of what our realistic decision points would be under a 2. 5% cap. The categories that we would most likely be looking to make cuts in order to live under a 2. 5%. I don't want to fall into the same category of just saying this is how many peace officers that cut would represent, because we know that that's not where we would take all of it. So we can work on that.
10:45 AMCounty executive, planning and budget. We can work on that for sure. I would like to highlight with a 2. 5% revenue cap as proposed you would be looking at reductions across the board. No, it would not all come from public safety. But there would be an impact in the public safety arena. I just want to point that out. But we are happy to look at what some of those scenarios are, along with what those projections are over the next three to four years. We've done some of that work already.
10:46 AMDeece, more?
I think that's all we have at this time.
Awesome. [ laughing ]
There are 105 days remaining in the session.

10:46 AMAny other questions? Thanks so much.
Thank you.
Next, we'll go to agenda item number 9, which is to receive update from the epidemiology and disease surveillance unit of the austin public health department on the incidents of influenza and other respiratory illnesses in travis county. This one's for you, bridget. [ laughing ]
Might be a couple weeks late.
Good morning judge, commissioners, sherri fleming, county executive for health and human services. And as you are aware, we meet our public health mandate via an interlocal agreement with the city of austin. And so with that, I will turn you over to staff from austin public health who will introduce themselves while I get their presentation up.
10:47 AMIf anyone needs hand sanitizer -- [ laughing ]
Good morning, i'm janet, chief epidemiologist with austin public health.