Local legislators discuss school finance, Battleship Texas during forum

Legislators speak at a forum related to the 2019 Texas legislative session.

Legislators speak at a forum related to the 2019 Texas legislative session.

Local state officials discussed everything from school finance to property taxes to Hurricane Harvey at a legislative wrap-up event July 23.

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston; Rep. Dennis Paul, R-Houston; and Rep. Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston, gathered in front of an audience of dozens at South Shore Harbour Resort and Conference Center for a forum hosted by the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.

Taylor started off by discussing the “historic” school finance reform found in House Bill 3. Taylor explained that before HB 3, states would pay less to school districts that had greater local tax revenue. Under the new system, the local tax revenue share can go up only 2.5%, meaning the state will pay more and local tax rates will decrease, Taylor said.

“On the tax side, we brought down your school property taxes about 5, 6 cents,” he said. “What we did this time on education was huge. We made some great strides on education.”

Senate Bill 2 does something similar for cities and counties, establishing a 3.5% cap for most of them. SB 2 may not lead to immediate property tax cuts paid to cities and counties, but it will help long-term, Taylor said.

Alvarado spoke about the three big bills—Senate bills 6, 7 and 8—and smaller bills related to Hurricane Harvey. SB 6 sets a framework to guide local governments toward preparing for hurricanes, SB 7 took $1.7 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to set up funding for flood-mitigation projects, and SB 8 sets guidelines for Texas’ first statewide flood plan.

Taylor said legislators also successfully secured money in the state’s supplemental budget to continue work on the coastal Texas barrier that aims to protect the Gulf Coast from storm surge and flooding during hurricanes.

Paul authored House Bill 303, which deals with development of the Houston Spaceport. The bill ensures a city by itself, without being tied to a county, can run a spaceport so Houston can continue its vision to make the city a destination for aerospace companies and eventually space vehicles.

“We’ve been trying to do whatever we could to help get this going,” Paul said. “It was a good deal for [Houston].”

Taylor said legislators passed school safety bills to secure $100 million from the state’s supplemental budget to help schools retrofit safety measures such as security cameras, reinforced vestibules and more. However, the most important thing legislators can do for school safety is help train teachers to identify at-risk students, he said.

“We wanna make sure everyone’s eye on the ball, … to make sure we do not have this happen again in our great state,” Taylor said.

Perez said there were bills this session related to Battleship Texas. There is a memorandum of understanding between the Battleship Texas Foundation and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department for the ship to go to Alabama for repairs and then come back to Texas but not necessarily to its existing home in La Porte. Perez said she was disappointed there is not somewhere in Texas the ship can be repaired and that she will fight to make sure Battleship Texas returns to La Porte after it is fixed.

“It needs to stay where it is,” she said to applause from the audience.

The ship-related bill establishes the need for community input to determine the ship’s fate. Perez’s office has received over 100 letters urging Battleship Texas to stay in La Porte, she said.
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