Members of the Deep East Texas County Commissioners and Judges Association met in Austin Tuesday just before the 86th Legislature was sworn in. Their main item of business was a briefing on the upcoming legislative session from the Senior Legislative Manager of the County Judges and Commissioners Association Rick Thompson and the General Counsel for the County Judges & Commissioners Association of Texas, Jim Allison. The focus of the discussion was potential legislative actions that would affect county government.
Allison gave the commissioners and judges a quick review of some of the issues expected to come up during the session. “Public Education funding is expected to be high on everyone’s priorities,” said Allison. ”Also, Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick are still talking about a property tax cap which could affect one of the few income sources for counties” added Thompson. Alliston stressed that Unfunded Mandates placed on the counties often drive the need to raise local taxes.
“On one hand, counties have very limited ways to generate operating funds, but property taxes are what most counties depend on for income. So it’s a double whammy when the state gives counties additional responsibilities without giving them a way to pay for the costs – and – then want to put additional limits on how we handle property taxes,” said Deep East Texas County Commissioners and Judges Association President, Shelby County Judge, Allison Harbison.
One of the most interesting changes this session involves the outcome of the recent general election. “This time the rural counties – not the folks living along Interstate 35 – are the ones that put the statewide office holders back in office,” said Allison, “and we’ll be reminding them.”
In wrapping up, Allison urged the commissioners and judges to get to know their legislators, and their staff, early in the session. “There have been over six-thousand bills pre-filed, fifteen hundred of them pertaining to county government. They will not have the time to research every one that comes up so they will need to be comfortable reaching out to reliable resources, like you, to tell them how the legislation would affect county government,” he concluded.