EIGHTY-SECOND TEXAS LEGISLATURE:
BUDGET DOMINATES ALL
The Eighty-Second Legislature faced such a massive, unprecedented budget deficit – some $27 billion – that making cuts and passing a balanced budget took nearly all its energy. How to apportion those cuts across school districts – and other important issues like congressional redistricting and hurricane insurance – got postponed until the last moment and simply died. As a result, the Governor called a special session the very next day after sine die. That special session is underway as this edition goes to print.
Understanding how cities fared this recent regular session begins and ends with the state budget. What relatively little (compared to nearly every other state) funding Texas cities receive from the state, a bit over $200 million per year, was cut by approximately 35 percent. (See description of H.B. 1 in the Finance and Administration section.) While those cuts are painful, there is a bright side. So much attention was focused on the budget that legislators either had little desire to pass otherwise harmful city legislation, or else they felt that the budget cuts were enough punishment to mete out for one biennium. Either way, the fact remains: cities dodged most of the harmful bills thrown our way.
To begin with, no bills passed that would have imposed harmful revenue caps or appraisal caps, though many such bills were filed. Further, the heavy budget deficit made this the ideal session for the state to raise the $82 state traffic tax on municipal court convictions, yet that didn’t happen. No seriously harmful statewide land use bills passed, though a significant eminent domain reform bill did pass (see S.B. 18 in the Community and Economic Development section). Other harmful legislation relating to tree mitigation, digital billboards, and sales tax on off-road vehicles died as well. These issues will be back; some may return during special sessions.
A bill relating to election dates, S.B. 100 (see the Elections section), deserves special mention, as it could affect the May city election date. The bill preserves the May election date for cities in all years, but compressed primary deadlines during even-numbered years may make cooperation with county election officials difficult. The League is planning two webinars devoted solely to understanding and adjusting to this bill.
So, how to assess this latest session? Many cities would accept some cuts in what little state funding they receive in exchange for minimal harm done to the principle they hold most dear: local control. That’s exactly what we got. Difficult funding cuts, yes, but a relatively clean bill of health when it comes to municipal authority.
The Important Numbers
In the 2011 session, lawmakers filed fewer bills than in previous sessions. All told, 6,303 bills and proposed constitutional amendments were filed. Compare that to 7,609 bills in 2009, and it’s a decrease of more than 20 percent. Even with that decrease, the volume of bills remained dizzying. (At one point in the session, the League was tracking almost 1,600 bills that could have affected city authority.)
In 2009, lawmakers passed 19.3 percent of bills filed; this year, 22.4 percent made the cut. Fewer bills were filed, but – percentage-wise – more bills passed.
For city-related bills, the success rate was slightly higher than last session: roughly 11 percent. That sometimes means bad news for cities, since the lion’s share of the city-related bills would have harmed municipal authority in some way. In this session, however, cities remained relatively unscathed.
The following sections contain summaries of the major city-related bills passed by the Eighty-Second Legislature. The governor has until June 19 to sign bills, veto them, or let them become law without his signature. The effective date of the bill is noted in a parenthetical following each bill described below. Some of the bills will become effective as soon as they are signed (e.g., “effective immediately”); others (unless vetoed) will become effective on September 1.
Future issues of the TML Legislative Update or Texas Town & City magazine will provide additional details on some of the bills described here, may include summaries of “straggler” bills that for various reasons weren’t summarized at the time of printing, and will provide other updates as appropriate.