A $700 million tax reform measure served as a political football Thursday, as three of the four Republican candidates for comptroller spoke at a conference in Austin.
State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy; state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville; and former gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina each delivered speeches at the annual meeting of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. Former state Rep. Raul Torres is also a candidate in the Republican primary. And Democrat Mike Collier is running, as well. Neither Torres nor Collier attended the event.
While all three candidates said they were interested in working to continue the state’s ongoing economic success, Hegar and Hilderbran also offered competing takes on the evolution of House Bill 500, a major franchise tax reform measure that they worked on together earlier this year.
Hilderbran, who serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax bills, originally passed the bill out of the House with provisions targeting specific industries that had long complained that the franchise tax treated them unfairly.
In the Senate, Hegar, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters, argued that the House version was too complex, and he replaced most of those provisions with a broad 5 percent cut in the franchise tax rate.
The bill that ultimately passed included elements of both versions.
On Thursday, Hilderbran said the bill could have been better and criticized Hegar’s work on it.
“One of my colleagues in this race, who really begged and pleaded to make sure he got to carry my bill, and when he did, it went to his subcommittee. What did he do? He stripped everything out of it, including the permanent tax-rate cut, and replaced it with a temporary tax-rate cut of two years,” Hilderbran said.
Hegar argued during his speech that the Senate made HB 500 more equitable.
“We wanted to make sure we dealt with the most egregious issues of those different categories of the margins tax,” Hegar said. “But, also, how do you give something to all 800,000 businesses. Everybody deserves something.”
Medina, who officially entered the race Wednesday, avoided the debate over HB 500 and used her speech to criticize the state’s overall tax structure as inefficient and unfair.
“Rather than a tax code that is simple, transparent and reliable, we’ve created a convoluted system of some 60-plus various taxes with volumes and volumes of exceptions and exemptions,” Medina said.
She she said she was interested in becoming comptroller to further a statewide conversation on abolishing the state’s property tax, which she argued “distorts the free market.”
“It’s important that we begin to look at taxes more appropriately, not as reward and punishment, not as carrot and stick, but as a means of equitably sharing in the cost of local and state government,” Medina said.
While Hegar and Hilderbran had launched their campaigns months ago, Medina had only been exploring a bid until Wednesday. In September, Medina said she was considering a second run for governor, this time as an independent, in part because she was having trouble drawing enough donations to properly fund a bid for comptroller.
On Thursday, she said fundraising remains a challenge, although she had built her campaign account enough to begin hiring a campaign staff.