THE LEAGUE'S 2009 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES: SAFE COMMUNITIES, ESSENTIAL INFRASTRUCTURE, VITAL SERVICES
The TML Board of Directors met in December 2008 to establish the League's legislative priorities for 2009. The Board produced a set of strategic goals that will focus the League's resources in the most effective way to: (1) provide funding for vital municipal services, (2) protect and enhance essential infrastructure, and (3) assure that local decisions are made locally.
These goals were adopted against a backdrop of a deteriorating national economy and a growing need for investment in infrastructure. These conditions, which threaten to impede economic growth in Texas, are directly connected to the League's legislative priorities.
Economic Conditions and Paying for Municipal Services
Texas takes pride in its ranking as one of the nation's most attractive states for doing business, and Texas workers have fared better than those in most other states in recent months. Even so, in the last half of 2008, the state's unemployment rate rose.
As economic conditions deteriorate and unemployment grows, cities typically face a growing demand on municipal services and facilities because of:
- rising crime rates,
- loss of health insurance coverage and increased reliance on public health facilities,
- a greater need for local economic development efforts, and
- increased use of public parks and recreation facilities as families cut back on entertainment and travel expenditures.
Even as the demand for municipal services grows, municipal revenue in many parts of Texas is threatened by a slowdown in the housing market and diminishing sales tax receipts.
To this mix of pressures on municipal governments can be added the extraordinary plight of the cities still devastated or otherwise affected by Hurricane Ike and damaged even more by a slow and inadequate federal response.
As the recession deepens and unemployment lines lengthen throughout the country, the competition to attract and retain job-creating businesses will become fierce. Texas city officials will be on the front lines in this battle to generate jobs for Texans.
If the Texas Legislature further limits the ability of cities to pay for vital services or burdens local taxpayers with unfunded mandates, our state will not be able to compete successfully for new jobs.
Having enough revenue to grant tax incentives for new or expanding businesses is just part of the equation. Cities also must have the revenue to finance the necessary infrastructure improvements, such as new roads and extensions of water and sewer lines.
Companies will not move to cities that cannot provide adequate fire protection or where workers and their families won't feel safe in their homes or on the streets of their neighborhoods.
And what business wants to locate in a city that can't afford to keep its libraries and playgrounds open, or that can't afford to maintain its streets, mow its rights-of-way or pick up trash along the roads or in its parks?
To win the competition for new jobs, Texas must offer current and potential employers safe, attractive, livable cities. Legislatively imposed restrictions on local revenue will handcuff our state in the intense competition for new jobs and accelerate and prolong a downward economic spiral.
Now more than ever, Texas cities and the State of Texas must work together to ensure that our citizens continue to have the services, facilities, and job-creation environment that our people so desperately need.
Investing in Infrastructure
Texas has long failed to make adequate investments in public infrastructure to keep pace with our rapidly growing population. In the latest assessment by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Texas earned dismal grades for the condition of its public infrastructure.
Roads and Highways: C-
- 40 percent of the state's major urban roads are congested.
- 29 percent of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
- Driving on roads in need of repair costs Texas motorists $3.8 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs$294 per motorist.
- 21 percent of the state's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Drinking Water: D
- The state's drinking water infrastructure need is $13 billion over the next 20 years.
- Texas has $9.15 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs.
Flood Control: D-
Hazardous Waste: C
When cities are forced to make budget cuts, the first casualties are usually infrastructure improvements and maintenance, which are deferred in order to maintain such vital services as public safety. Furthermore, unlike local governments in most states, municipal governments in Texas not only finance local road construction and maintenance, but also pay a significant part of the cost for new state highways.
If the legislature acts to further restrict revenue sources for local governments or forces local taxpayers to pay for additional state mandates, our state's infrastructure will continue to crumble and become an impediment to economic growth. Cities will cancel or defer infrastructure spending and will almost certainly stop making "local participation" donations to state highway projects.
Deciding Local Matters at the Local Level
Last fall, cities throughout the state confronted the stark realities of increasing needs and limited revenue as they adopted budgets for the coming year. However, each city has a unique story to tell because of differences in size, location, demographics, mix of businesses, and combination of revenue sources. Because each city is unique, the most important legislative goal of city elected leaders is maintaining local control and flexibility to meet the needs of their citizens, deal with a changing economy, and respond to emergencies.
Thus, the following legislative priorities focus on maintaining the ability of locally elected officials to carry out their responsibilities to their communities.
- Maintain the current constitutional provision limiting increases in appraised values.
- Maintain existing local control over tax rates.
- Protect local taxpayers from bearing the burden of paying for state mandates.
- Protect local taxpayers from paying the costs of collecting revenues for the state.
- Maintain local control over public property such as rights-of-way, and ensure that communities continue to be compensated for private use of public property.
- Maintain the current ability of cities to acquire property for uses that benefit their citizens.
- Maintain the ability of local officials to protect the interests of property owners, neighborhoods, and the public in decisions regarding the permitted uses of property.
- Protect local taxpayers from paying additional compensation to individuals and businesses for decisions made in the public interest.
- Maintain current laws that protect local taxpayers from the costs of unwarranted lawsuits against cities.
The League's Package of Legislative Priorities
The TML Board determined that the League's most important legislative goals will be the following items in priority order:
- Defeat any legislation that would erode municipal authority in any way or that would otherwise be detrimental to cities, especially legislation that would:
- enact a mandated reduction in the appraisal growth cap established in current law.
- impose a revenue cap of any type.
- create an unfunded mandate.
- require cities to act as collection agents for state revenue.
- erode municipal authority over rights-of-way or erode municipal authority to collect compensation for the use of rights-of-way.
- limit or prohibit the authority of city officials to use municipal funds to communicate with legislators.
- limit or prohibit the right of the Texas Municipal League to use any revenue, however derived, to communicate with legislators.
- erode the authority of cities to condemn property for a public purpose.
- restrict cities' ability to adopt or amend zoning regulations.
- establish a standard or process for determining economic loss and related compensation resulting from a regulatory action.
- substantively change or expand the scope of the current disease presumption law or the current meet-and-confer law.
- erode municipal sovereign immunity.
- Passage of any legislation that would:
- exempt as many cities as possible from any federal collective bargaining legislation that may become law in the future.
- extend the authority of property-taxing entities to engage in property tax abatements.
- enact beneficial changes to Section 255.003 of the Texas Election Code (the statute prohibiting the use of public funds for political advertising).
- convert the sales tax reallocation process from a ministerial process into a more formalized administrative process that would, at a minimum, require prior notice to all affected parties and impose a time limit of three years on the right of a claimant to request a refund.
- clarify that only value lost to a senior/disabled tax freeze should be excluded from effective property tax rate calculations.
- amend the Government Code regarding notification and advertisement to allow small cities the option to make use of current technologies to efficiently notify and advertise.
- amend the Utilities Code to permit cities to annually adjust the franchise charge amount collected pursuant to Section 33.008(b) of the Utilities Code (relating to electric franchise fees) by an amount equal to one-half of the annual change, if any, in the consumer price index. h. permit a local-option municipal court fee on convictions in municipal court to be used to offset fuel costs.
(Note: Any city official can obtain a copy of the complete TML legislative program by calling the League office at (512) 231-7400.)
The League's Legislative Priorities: An Overview
- Ensure funding for vital community services by vigorously opposing efforts to erode revenue needed to:
- Keep cities safe from crime;
- Respond to emergencies;
- Enhance economic growth and job creation;
- Provide recreational facilities and parks; and
- Protect the natural environment.
- Protect and enhance essential infrastructure by opposing efforts to diminish municipal revenue and by supporting initiatives that will meet the needs of our cities for:
- Streets, roads, and bridges;
- Clean water;
- Safe and effective wastewater treatment;
- Stormwater management;
- Sustainable solid waste collection and disposal; and
- Public transit.
- Ensure that local decisions are made locally by supporting reasonable enhancements to regulatory authority and by opposing attempts to cripple the ability of cities to:
- Obtain land for essential public purposes;
- Protect property values by imposing reasonable development standards;
- Enact zoning ordinances; and
- Respond to citizen demands for orderly and sustainable development.