Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Off Year Elections; Could be Time for a Change

Trying to stay on task can sometimes be a difficult job. Making sure that one blogs on a regular basis can also be difficult. My planned schedule is to post a blog every Monday. However, the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes just do not work out. Being sick for about ten days or so, on the campaign trail and my day job just have not left much time for blogging.

This year's "off year" election ballot in the Republican primary includes a number of non-binding resolutions that will be used by the "party" as a method to convey the party's grass roots' opinions to the elected officials. seems as though the issue of property tax reform has been grass roots for a long time, yet those in control have done little.

Ballot proposition #2 continues to push the cap tax and control government growth idea. What the GOP pundits fail to realize is that local government is already capped at eight percent. Any increase above that automatically triggers a rollback election. This eight percent is a reasonable amount that lets local government plan for the future and provide revenue to provide required services as well.

My Mother always told me that we should learn from our mistakes and others' mistakes as well. All one needs to do is take a look at California and see what this cap mentality has done to that state. Proposition 13 capped property taxes statewide in California, and inflation has not kept up with the rising costs of services putting California on the verge of bankruptcy.

I am afraid that redistricting during the 2011 Legislative session will overshadow any real move by the elected officials to make any meaningful changes to the property tax system. Add to the agenda balancing the state budget for the next two years and the folks in Austin will have all they can handle. Redistricting is important, but watching the state balance the budget on the backs of the taxpayers while those in power preach property tax reform is going to be interesting.

Speaking of the budget being balanced, local government is going to have to keep a close watch on our Austin leaders as unfunded mandates are one tool they often use to balance the state budget. Some years ago the state paid for 65% of local education cost and the taxpayers contributed 35%. Today the taxpayer is picking up 65+% and the state the remainder. By the way state redistributes local tax money to help meet their responsibility.

Maybe it is time we quit using the term "off year" election. Every election is important, and this one could well become an "on" year election for the voters if we turn out. It is time to take a look at those in Austin and make a move to change their thinking. It has been said that people do not want to be led from the left, or from the right, or for that matter from the middle. They want to lead themselves. They elect folks to do that for them.

Take a look at who is in Austin and consider their record, not their party. Could be time to vote for someone who still believes in government for the people by the people. With a little effort on our part this could be an "on" year election. Maybe it is time for a wake up call for some of those that proffer to serve at our pleasure.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Water Could Lower Tax Rate

Water is an issue in Milam County and will continue to be an issue in the future. No, I am not referring to the abundance of rain that we have had in recent months, but to the groundwater that lies beneath the southern half of the county.

Since taking office in 1999 water has been an issue, and our water has been in the cross-hairs of water entrepreneurs across the state. That was one of the reasons that the Commissioners Court lobbied during the 2001 legislative session for the creation of the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District.

The district was created to protect our water resources. The board has recently come under fire from some citizens that feel they are not doing their job and conserving our water. This is based on the fact that the board has issued a number of permits that amount to a whole lot of water that could eventually be moved out of the district.

While the district has some control over groundwater within the district state law prohibits the district from preventing the export of groundwater from the district. While they can control the amount based on permitting, they can not totally ban the export of water.

The water issues in the state are very complicated. While we have local groundwater districts we also have regional planning groups. These groups are in charge of working with local to districts to formulate a plan that will manage the aquifers in the state on a regional basis.

The bottom line is that while some folks want all the water to stay in the district it just ain't gonna to happen. So what are some options or plans? Well, if you look at it from a regional basis, by the district permitting now they are actually saving, or dedicating the permitted water to a use. It might be leaving our district, but is is still under the control of the district and the local management plan.

That being said we will be loosing a valuable resource. So is there anything that the county could expect in return? I say yes. The water will be going to areas of the state that will benefit from economic development resulting form the availability of our water. The development will increase their tax base and allow for the lowering of that area's tax rate.

Currently the state has in place a severance tax on oil and gas. I would propose that we define a way to implement the same thing on water for counties. This income from the export of water from a county would then be dedicated, by law, to the reduction of property taxes. I call it the Vowell fee after the gentleman who gave me the idea.  Even though we would be loosing our water we would still be benefiting from the use of our valuable resources.

During the last legislative session I visited with our state representatives about this idea. It was a bit late to get it into the legislative process, but this year it is going to be one of my priorities during the session. I can't tell you exactly what will come out of the process. However, my main goal would be to ease the tax burden on local taxpayers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sales Tax Declining

Every month the Comptroller's Office sends out figures on sales tax collection across the state. The latest figures for the state were down 1.65 billion dollars for December 2009. That is an 11.6 percent decrease from a year ago. Sales tax revenue declined every month during 2009, except for the month of January.

Milam County sales tax was also down in 2009. During 2008 Milam County received $1,507,607.12 in revenue from sales tax, compared to $1,224,531.97 in 2009. This is a net loss of $283,075.15 in revenue to the county. Revenue that is dedicated to the reduction of ad valorem property taxes.

With the unemployment rate in Texas running 8.3% in December of 2009 it does not bode well for the future of sales tax revenues in Texas. Folks have to have a job to be able to spend so the state, counties and cities can collect the sales tax. No sales no tax.

Milam County will most likely see an increase in sales tax revenue for the months of February and March. Over 1,000 workers are being brought into the county for a shutdown. This will certainly help, but when the shutdown is completed the workers and their paychecks move on.

Bottom line is that unemployment and sales tax revenue are two indicators of the health of the economy. While many pundits say that we are moving into the recovery phase these two indicators do not necessarily agree.

Counties will not be as hard hit as the state. Texas depends on sales tax revenue to fund approximately 57 percent of the biennial budget. Big problem for the state is that what they predicted during the budgeting process in 2009 is off by almost 13% compared to the same time period last year.

In response to this projected shortfall all state agencies have been requested to find 5 percent that can be cut from their total budget. Agencies must reply to the request by February 15th. It is going to be interesting to see exactly what is cut.

The good news is that the counties will not be as severely affected by the decrease in sales tax revenue. Sales tax accounts for far less of a county's overall budget. The bad news is that if the economy does not turn around in the near future the overall economic decline will have an effect on counties across the entire state. If we get to that point it is going to be interesting to see what we cut.