Four Austin-area state House representatives spent lunch Tuesday talking about major legislative issues, including transportation initiatives, local versus state control, and property tax reform as part of a monthly Real Estate Council of Austin event.
Here is how State House Reps. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin; Paul Workman, R-Austin; Celia Israel, D-Austin; and John Cyrier, R-Bastrop, reacted to some of the main topics discussed during the forum:
• Whether any more money will be dedicated to transportation this session after $5 billion was allocated to state mobility projects two years ago:
“I don’t really see any new major funding sources coming down," Workman said. "We need to make sure the dollars that are there wind up where they are needed.”
“[Texas Department of Transportation wants] 150 FTEs (full-time employees)—I see everyone rolling their eyes on that one—even I am,” Israel said. “Their argument is that we’re getting more money to get more projects, and we need more staff to oversee those projects. ... There’s no political wind there to make that happen.”
• In response to whether rail service will reemerge as a potential transportation solution:
“Seeing all these different propositions go down, I can only guess that the problem is that the plan isn’t good enough," Rodriguez said. "Every time I talk to people, they want to see congestion relieved, but there just doesn’t seem to be a plan that people can get behind.”
• In response to repeated efforts to enact a statewide texting ban on Texas roadways:
“We can’t seem to pass a statewide ban on texting—I don’t know why, it's very disappointing—and those against it claim they want local control," Israel said. "We as a state refuse to step up to the plate and enact a statewide ban in Texas.”
“There are reasons why the state needs to get involved when cities and counties do something, and texting is a good example," Workman said. "We have numerous city ordinances out there. … You don’t know if it’s OK to text at a stop light. Some cities it’s OK, in some cities it is not.”
• Whether a statewide bill regulating ride-hailing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, should overrule city of Austin regulations enacted in 2016:
"[Any proposal this legislative session] adds a ton of bureaucracy for my colleagues who typically don’t like government control," Rodriguez said. "The trouble for me is the idea they want to overturn what the Austin voters—not the City Council, but the voters—chose."
Property tax reform
• Whether to pursue a proposal to require a special election any time a governmental entity's effective property tax rate increases beyond 4 percent:
“We can cut taxes and do things that help spur growth and create more jobs and help us bring up that revenue base, but if we’re spending it faster than we can rake it in then we’re going to continue to have issues,” Cyrier said.
“We have experienced a lot of growth, and it is stressing out our system. … So we spend a lot on education, but compared to other states we’re right in the middle on student spending,” Israel said. “I just don’t believe Texas has owned up to its responsibilities. … I don’t want to limit cities’ ability to step up to the plate for themselves where the state would not for them.”
“You can talk about capping this and lowering taxes here and there, but there’s a cost to that, and we have to be real about what that cost is. And if we’re OK with that, then OK,” Rodriguez said. “Limiting local spending is going to have an impact on your school district and your college district.”