WilCo commissioners, state leaders discuss legislative priorities

Two state representatives and a state senator joined Williamson County commissioners Dec. 2 for a meeting to explore county leaders' hopes for the 2015 Texas legislative session.



In attendance were State Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, state Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, and state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown. Their discussion followed a list written by Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman and Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long.



Birkman said the list is a work in progress, but the first draft includes topics such as state caps on property appraisals and state funding for transportation projects.



Appraisal caps



Commissioners said they would like to participate in dialogue about capping property appraisal increases and take part in helping to craft any new state legislation.



Long said county commissioners also hope to keep the county's property tax rate stable, rather than potentially raising and lowering the rate based on fluctuating property value assessments. Commissioners want to keep taxes low, but also have to pay down debt that funded county road and parks projects. Commissioners face future budget needs because of the community's rapid growth, Long said.



Gonzales said observers could look back and critique state legislators' decisions, but in the 1990s Texas leaders rejected flawed proposals for updating property appraisal methods. By contrast, California leaders accepted those proposals and they did not work for the state, Gonzales said.



Transportation funding



Long said she wished county leaders could somehow take all revenue that would result from the passage of Proposition 1, and appropriate the funds for improvements to alleviate congestion on Interstate 35 within Williamson County and Austin.



Proposition 1 was approved by voters Nov. 4 and amends the Texas constitution to divert state oil and gas tax revenues to the State Highway Fund. Some experts have estimated the move could generate $1.7 billion to spend on roads in the first year. But Long said that even if that total went to I-35 projects such as adding a new lane on the highway, more funding for I-35 improvements would still be needed.



Other priorities



Other topics on commissioners' pending list of legislative priorities include:



  • Water availability

  • Foster care reform

  • Mental health issues and funding

  • Legal status of 17-year-old suspects

  • Financial reports and audits in emergency service districts

  • School nurses and the ability to give certain medications to students in emergencies

By Stephen Burnett
Stephen Burnett has been a community journalist since 2005. He joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in November 2013. For the cities of Cedar Park, Leander and northwest Austin, he covers city and county government, business, development, events, transportation, utilities and more.


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