Is the governor holding a press conference in North Texas
League staff heard a rumor that he might be doing so at 5:00
p.m. today (June 29), but we haven’t been able to confirm and no media is
reporting on it as of printing time. If he does hold one, League staff
will listen and report on any new city-related developments in tomorrow’s
What are the results of TML’s mid-year Fiscal Conditions
Each year, TML conducts a fiscal conditions survey of its
member cities. With an unexpected public health crisis and an economic
recession, most cities will have to make difficult decisions over the next
coming months. This is why TML created a special-edition, mid-year fiscal
conditions survey to help cities navigate the upcoming budget planning
process. With 552 cities responding, the survey demonstrates that the
Coronavirus pandemic has impacted cities significantly.
Cities are the government closest to the people and play a
significant role in the quality of life and emergency response for
communities. Citizens benefit from the core services that cities provide,
such as public safety (EMS, fire, and police), streets, parks, public
transportation, libraries, utilities, and other vital services. Those
services are funded by property taxes and other sources of revenue.
With little financial assistance from the state, cities are
tasked to manage growth or decline and rely on their own capacity to
generate revenue. The state provides almost no funding for the provision of
city services. In fact, Texas ranks 47 out of the 50 states in the amount
of state-generated revenue as a percentage of their budgets. In
planning its own revenue mix, each city is different and will need to make
decisions based upon any number of factors, such as the impact of COVID-19
on other sources of local revenue like sales taxes, the amount of city
expenditures made in response to the emergency, as well as the ability and
willingness of local taxpayers to potentially pay a given property tax
Survey results show that 67 percent of cities are choosing
not to change their property tax rate. Only 14 percent of cities are
estimating a raise in their tax rate. Further, over half are projecting to
adopt the “no new revenue rate,” which used to be called the “effective
rate” prior to Senate Bill 2 from 2019. Of cities that plan to exceed the
no new revenue rate, the median increase is projected to be 3.5 percent
according to the survey.
In recent months, cities are not only responding to a public
health crisis, but they have taken a financial hit. Sixty-six percent of
cities have lost sales tax revenue due to the pandemic. In addition, more
than 50 percent have lost hotel occupancy tax revenue, and 48 percent
have lost mixed beverage taxes. Of the responding cities, 28 percent expect
next year’s revenue to be lower compared to the current year.
To deal with the current revenue loss, cities have examined
what cost-saving measures could be implemented. Twenty-five percent of
cities imposed a hiring freeze and 15 percent have frozen wages in the
current fiscal year. The survey shows that cities will continue to extend
their hiring and wage freeze into the next fiscal year. Twenty-three
percent of cities either reduced or eliminated city services. However, only
10 percent of cities expect to reduce or eliminate services in the next
Under the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Relief Fund is to be
used for state and local governments in response to the pandemic.
Twenty-five percent of all cities have received such funds. Sixteen percent
of cities that received funds received it directly through the U.S.
Treasury Department. Cities in a county of 500,000 or more population were
able to receive their money from that county – 29 percent received funds
through this avenue. All other cities (except the few with 500,000 or
more population that received direct allocation) can draw their funds from
the state through the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), and
over half of cities that received funds did so through TDEM.
It is no surprise that Texas and its cities have experienced
incredible growth in recent years. Many cities have seen their populations
grow by more than 10 percent since 2010, with some experiencing an upwards
of 30 percent growth. According to the U.S. Census, Texas has led the nation
in annual population growth for each year between 2010 through 2019. Texas
cities have felt that impact. For much of the past decade, seven of the
fifteen fastest growing cities are located here. Texas surpassed 28 million
people in 2017 and is on the verge of surpassing 29 million.
Recent trends have shown populations shifting from rural to
urban areas, indicating that cities will experience the majority of the
future population growth. The state demographer projects the state’s
population will double by 2050. This would mean 25 million more people
living in Texas in 30 years. Currently, 74 percent of the Texas population
(21.2 million people) live in incorporated areas. Further, 89 percent of
Texans (25.6 million people) live in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).
In other words, the vast majority of Texans live, work, and play in or
around cities. In the last five years, we have seen cities taking on more
capital spending to address this growth. Now, we are seeing an incline of
cities (30 percent) that are expecting to postpone capital spending as a
cost saving measure.
The survey reinforces the notion that no two Texas cities
are identical, especially in a crisis. Cities may respond differently
to economic conditions and public health emergencies, and that is why the
legislature should not impose one-size-fits-all mandates or revenue
restrictions on cities. City officials are engaged with residents every day
and are the most familiar with local issues. They must have the flexibility
to respond to fluctuations in revenue sources and to the different levels
of services city taxpayers demand.
The full results of the survey are on TML’s website at: https://www.tml.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/172.
What is the latest with regard to voting by mail?
Last Friday (June 26), the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal that could have expanded
voting by mail in Texas.
The Texas Democratic Party had appealed a U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s opinion to the Supreme Court. The Fifth
Circuit opinion prevents Texas voters who are afraid of contracting
COVID-19 at the polling place from voting by mail solely for that reason.
Supporters of voting by mail argued to the Supreme Court that the state
statute governing voting by mail violates the U.S. Constitution’s
prohibition on discriminatory voting restrictions based on age because it
allows older voters to vote by mail, while prohibiting younger ones from
Justice Sotomayor included the following statement in the
“This application raises weighty but seemingly novel questions
regarding the Twenty-Sixth Amendment. I do not disagree with the decision
to refrain from addressing them for the first time here, in the context of
an emergency application to vacate a stay of an injunction. But I hope that
the Court of Appeals will consider the merits of the legal issues in this
case well in advance of the November election.”
The Texas attorney general released this statement:
“’I applaud the Supreme Court for following the law and
refusing to order mail-in balloting that the Texas Legislature has
forbidden. Universal mail-in ballots, which are notoriously vulnerable to
fraud, would only lead to greater election fraud and disenfranchise lawful
voters,’ said Attorney General Paxton. ‘State election officials have many
options available to safely and securely hold elections without
risking widespread fraud. My office will continue to fight for safe,
free and fair elections.’”
How have mayors responded to the rise in COVID-19 cases?
Mayors all over the state are doing what they perceive is
right for their community to protect their residents. Two
developments are of particular interest.
In central Texas, the City of Round Rock issued an order that becomes effective June 30 and
requires individuals 10 years of age or older to wear, with some
exceptions, masks: (1) inside any building that is open to the public; and
(2) outside with a group of people where it is difficult to keep six feet
away from others in the group. The order provides for a verbal or
written warning for the first infraction and an escalating monetary penalty
for subsequent violations.
In addition, the McAllen Monitor reported on Saturday (June 27) that
The mayors of Hidalgo County’s largest four cities – Jim
Darling of McAllen, Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez of Pharr, Richard Molina of
Edinburg, and Armando O’Caña of Mission – all signed a letter to the
governor outlining their desire for more pandemic
autonomy. “Specifically, the mayors petitioned for the ability to
create local size restrictions on gatherings and to decide locally whether
to enforce mask wearing and how to enforce it, framing those desires
against the backdrop of the Rio Grande Valley’s dramatic uptick in COVID-19
cases over the last month.”
What has been the response to the governor’s decision last
week to close down bars?
A lawsuit, it looks like. The Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance plans to sue the State
of Texas over the governor’s decision last week to close bars. TBNA’s
Facebook page said this:
“In light of Greg Abbott’s irresponsible and shameful
actions this morning that shutter the businesses that provide a livelihood
for your families and employees, we support our members in the
constitutional right to protest by keeping your businesses open.”
In a related issue, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission
is allowing mixed-drinks to go in certain circumstances.
Where can I find archived issues of the TML Coronavirus
TML Coronavirus Updates are archived by date here and by subject here.