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Special Session to Begin July 18

Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced his intent to call the 85th Legislature back into special session (which may last up to 30 days) beginning July 18.

The ostensible reason for calling the special session is to pass a sunset bill (killed in the Senate at the end of the regular session) in order to keep several state agencies alive, but the governor identified some 19 other items he believes the legislature should have fully addressed in the regular session, and he expects them to resolve them in 30 days. Many of the items expected to be on the call have a local government bent with an end goal of concentrating more power in Austin.

Front and center will be county and city property taxes, with another strong push to force automatic rollback elections and reduce the rollback rate. The empty rhetoric around this issue continues to willfully ignore the real source of pressure on property tax payers: school property taxes.

Speaker of the House Joe Straus said recently that if the state is going to be serious about real property tax reform, that means real public school finance reform as well. The governor did not identify school finance as an issue for the called session, outside of a commission to study it some more. The state’s budget cuts state general revenue funding for public schools by more than $1.2 billion, but provides that local school property taxes be increased by almost 14 percent over the 2017 and 2018 tax years. Yet cities and counties, whose tax levy as a percentage of income has been essentially flat for decades, are blamed by some in state government as the offenders.

Other issues expected to be on the call are transgender bathrooms, pay increases for school teachers (with no state appropriation), “school choice” (vouchers) for special needs students, caps on state and local spending, municipal tree ordinances, vested rights and permitting issues, municipal annexation authority and pre-empting local texting while driving ordinances. See a complete list of the topics.

It is critically important that county officials maintain contact with your legislators, the lieutenant governor and the governor regarding these efforts to concentrate more power in Austin. Make the voice of county government heard in the halls of the Capitol.