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The Brief: May 13, 2015

The House's tax writing committee on Tuesday took up the Senate's proposal to cut property taxes by raising homeowners' residential homestead exemption. But what transpired on Tuesday was far from a kumbaya moment.

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, celebrates passage of his tax cut measures during the House session April 28, 2015.

The Big Conversation

The House's tax writing committee on Tuesday took up the Senate's proposal to cut property taxes by raising homeowners' residential homestead exemption. The chambers, though, are at loggerheads on how to approach tax relief this session with the House favoring a historic cut in the state sales tax rate. And what transpired on Tuesday was far from a kumbaya moment.

“I think the main hangup is that the lieutenant governor believes that all the issues need to be resolved at one time to his liking,” said Dennis Bonnen, the House's chief tax writer, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News' Peggy Fikac.

The Tribune's Aman Batheja wrote that Bonnen said he would not put to a vote in his committee the Senate's proposal not to have property tax relief count toward the spending cap.

“I want to make it clear to the members that I have absolutely no desire, no intention or no will to request that these members vote for a gimmick to bust the spending limit for us to do things that we think are really neat,” Bonnen said in a morning meeting of his committee. “The spending limit either matters or it does not.” 

Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson responded by saying: “I don't understand how the House cannot support property tax relief. The public wants property tax relief. The Senate wants property tax relief. I know our lieutenant governor is passionate, but the Senate is passionate about providing property tax relief. That’s what I think the House doesn’t understand.”

Also worth noting is Nelson's belief that Gov. Greg Abbott is involved in trying to resolve the impasse.

For his part, Batheja reported that Bonnen was offering a possible way out of the ditch by offering to scrap both the sales and property tax cuts in favor of a larger cut to the business franchise tax. Both chambers' tax relief prescriptions include a cutback in that tax.

“I would love to put it all into reducing the franchise tax,” Bonnen said. “I am beyond comfortable with that.”

Trib Must-Reads

Analysis: Making a Tax Deal Voters Might Not Care About, by Ross Ramsey — As they try to agree on tax cuts that are the major obstacle to a state budget, lawmakers could find themselves wishing the cuts they deliver are as big as they sounded to the public.

Paxton: UT Can't Block Regents' Requests for Information, by Matthew Watkins — Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday boosted University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall's efforts to dig into admissions at UT-Austin by siding with Hall in a dispute over whether regents can have access to confidential student records.

Trade Deal Backed by Cornyn, Cruz is Blocked in U.S. Senate, by Abby Livingston — Despite the support of nearly every Republican in the U.S. Senate, including both from Texas, economic legislation seek as key to President Obama's legacy was blocked on the U.S. Senate floor Tuesday.

Plan to Reform School Finance System on Life Support, by Morgan Smith — A school finance plan that would result in an extra $800 million for public education faces dim prospects in the dwindling weeks of the legislative session, a top House lawmaker said Tuesday.

Rainy Day Fund Could Be Invested More Aggressively, by Ryan McCrimmon — The Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a measure granting Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar more flexibility to invest a portion of the $8 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, sending the bill to the governor's desk.

The Day Ahead

•    The House convenes at 9 a.m.; the Senate convenes at 11 a.m.

•    House State Affairs will take up the Senate's far-reaching ethics bill, SB 19 by Van Taylor, R-Plano (JHR 140).

•    Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith will interview state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. The 8 a.m. breakfast conversation takes place at the Austin Club and will be live streamed for those unable to attend in person.


Budget add-on could derail bullet train linking Dallas, Houston, The Dallas Morning News

Texas government ethics overhaul taking shape, Austin American-Statesman

House gives needle exchange program a nod, San Antonio Express-News

With time running out, prospects for grand jury reform dim, Houston Chronicle

Jade Helm exercise worries a lot of people, especially on the right, poll finds, The Dallas Morning News

Gregory Fenves declined $1 million salary for top UT job, emails show, Austin American-Statesman

Historic drought is almost over in Texas, San Antonio Express-News

Cruz: 'Of course' Iraq was a mistake, The Hill

Quote to Note

“It does reek of old norms and often it’s called benevolent sexism – they are not putting women down, but they are in a way.”

— Emily Amanatullah, an assistant professor of management at the University of Texas business school, on a training session for Austin city staff who will interact with a council that is the city's first with a majority of women. One speaker's advice was that women ask more questions and don't want to deal with numbers.

Today in TribTalk

The case for property tax relief, by Jane Nelson, Paul Bettencourt, Brandon Creighton, Robert Nichols and Carlos Uresti — With Texas homeowners being gouged more and more every year, we in the state Senate believe enough is enough. That's why we've taken action.

Texans deserve details of bullet train plan, by Kyle Workman — For those of us concerned about protecting our land, livelihood and way of life, the Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail proposal has simply raised too many unanswered questions.

What's really at stake in the education reform debate, by Gay Gaddis and Justin Yancy — It’s time to stop talking about possible reforms and to take action that will provide parents with options and children with opportunities.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    How'd the House Do? A Conversation About the 84th Legislative Session on May 21 at The Austin Club

•    How'd the Senate Do? A Conversation About the 84th Legislative Session on May 28 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation About Texas Monthly's Best and Worst Legislators 2015 on June 18 at The Austin Club

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Dennis Bonnen Glenn Hegar Jane Nelson John Cornyn Ken Paxton Ted Cruz