County Magazine | February 13, 2023
The 2023 legislative session in underway; as always, TAC is here for you
The Texas Legislature is back for its 88th regular session. By the time lawmakers are done on May 29, they will have considered about 7,000 bills, if recent history is any guide. Most of these bills will not become law, but hundreds of them will, and anywhere to one-third to one-half will affect county government in one way or another.
The Texas Association of Counties' Legislative Services staff members will be watching the Legislature closely, tracking county-related bills as they're filed and monitoring them for TAC's members and affiliate associations. TAC's legislative team members work tirelessly to be a trusted source of information for county officials who seek to stay up to date with the ever-changing legislative landscape at the Capitol. They help prepare officials in every county office to build a constructive partnership with state representatives and senators, guided by the belief that policy is strengthened and improved when local and state officials work together.
"The amount of work that they do is just tremendous," TAC Legislative Services Director Noe Barrios said of the staff he supervises. "They're able to take a several thousand-page bill or budget and distill it down to its most relevant information for county members."
2023 Legislative Schedule
A list of important dates for the 88th legislative session, along with events scheduled for TAC members. For a full list of TAC events, visit www.county.org/calendar-of-events.
The big news so far in a session that is only a few weeks old is the amount of general revenue lawmakers will have available for the next two-year budget cycle — an unprecedented $188.2 billion, according to the biennial revenue estimate that Comptroller Glenn Hegar released on Jan. 9, the day before the 88th Legislature convened. That's a 26% increase over the revenue lawmakers had available in 2021 when they passed the current 2022-23 budget, which ends Aug. 31.
In addition, Hegar projected that the current budget would end with a $32.7 billion surplus. Under state law, $10 billion of that amount is reserved for highway projects and the rainy-day fund, but the rest is available for lawmakers to use to supplement the current budget.
"The enormous amount of projected revenues give the state a remarkable, or a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for historical actions in this legislative session," Hegar said.
Passing a balanced, two-year budget is the only constitutional obligation the Legislature must meet each 140-day regular session. Of course, no Legislature has stopped there. Lawmakers will consider many more issues this session, with property taxes topping just about every list of priorities.
The state does not levy a property tax; its revenue comes from sales taxes and other levies and fees. However, the state can provide some property tax relief. It can, for example, increase the homestead exemption to help lower local property taxes. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Texas Senate, supports raising the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000.
Stay on top of the action at the Capitol with these resources.
Other priorities supported by Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan and Gov. Greg Abbott include strengthening the power grid and investing in infrastructure. Public education, school safety, health care, elections, border security and numerous other major issues will generate their share of headlines as lawmakers begin the business of lawmaking in earnest over the next three months.
Notable for counties is Patrick's support for the construction of a state mental health hospital in the Panhandle and providing state money for additional mental health beds throughout rural Texas. Patrick has also called for the creation of a law enforcement enhancement fund, which he has said he would like to develop with the Texas Association of Counties and our members.
In addition to increased state support for mental health services and resources, county priorities include state funding to ease jail staffing shortages and reduce the backlog of state felons in county jails awaiting transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. This unfunded cost to county taxpayers and many others like it cumulatively contribute to higher property taxes as local governments pick up the state's tab.
It's one reason why county judges, commissioners and other county officials are always scanning the legislative horizon for such unfunded mandates headed their way. "I think it's important that we continue to remind legislators that fully funding some of the mandates they pass down to local governments would provide some property tax relief," Barrios said.
County officials also will be keeping a close eye on continued efforts to make it harder for local officials to effectively participate in the state policymaking process. The latest attempt, Senate Bill 175, would ban so-called taxpayer-funded lobbying and repeal TAC's enabling statute.
County engagement is critical during each session. If the world is run by those who show up, then there is no better way for counties to state their case than to reach out to their representatives and senators and develop a collaborative relationship. TAC stands by as an always-available informational resource.
"The work of counties never stops, and neither does TAC's," Barrios said.