State Rep. John Turner at the LH YMCA Sunday

State Rep. John Turner shared Sunday in a Town Hall at the Lake Highlands YMCA that he’s off to a quick start in Austin, making connections and learning the finer points of lawmaking. At the halfway point of his first session, he and fellow legislators are grappling with 3 house bills designed to deal with state spending, property tax relief and school finance. It’s still Texas, though, so he also saw bills relating to the keeping of chickens at home, personal use of rabbit meat, operating a motor vehicle from its trunk and renewing the annual football game between UT and Texas A&M.

Serious business.

The proposed budget in HB1 includes $115.4 billion in spending, with the largest percentages going to public education ($48.7 billion), health/human services ($33.7), higher education ($15.1) and public safety/criminal justice ($11.4). Turner aided the budget creation process by serving on the Article II (health & human services) Committee.

“This is a good budget session for Texas,” Turner said. “We can ask ourselves what we want to spend money on rather than where we have to cut or where we have to find additional revenue.”

Also in the proposed budget are reduced caseloads for CPS workers, better response for infectious disease outbreaks, fingerprint background checks for those who work with children and the elderly, better care for autistic children and reduced wait times to obtain drivers licenses.

“The political stars have lined up,” added Turner. “We can leave room for property tax relief for local property tax payers, which is a priority for leadership in the legislature. It’s a good combination. Right now, people are focused on some of the big challenges we have as a state – focused on public education, focused on improving our public health system. I feel like we’re in a fairly good place compared to where we have been in some other sessions.”

HB2 would require an election when local governments want to collect an additional 2.5 percent or more in tax revenue from existing properties, though Turner predicted that cap percentage could increase as the bill moves through the legislative process.

“The legislature is very conscious that people feel like property taxes have gone up a lot –people are feeling pinched and, in some cases, are feeling priced out of their homes.”

“I will say I have some concerns about this bill,” Turner added. “The City of Dallas and Dallas County and the Dallas County Community College District are concerned about their ability to provide services. I’m sensitive to people being taxed out of their homes, but we have to balance that with providing services, and our local elected officials have tried to do exactly that.”

Other measures being discussed to reduce property taxes, he said, are increasing – perhaps even doubling – the homestead exemption and swapping a penny increase in sales tax for a drop in property taxes.

HB3 addresses public education, with an increase in the proposed basic allotment provided by the state from $5,140 per student to $6,030. An additional $9 billion will be used to educate children and to compress local property taxes, recently increased by local school boards desperate to keep pace.

“The big headline for this session is a significant increase in public education spending,” Turner said.

Turner highlighted legislators’ goals of reduced reliance on Robin Hood and increased funding for early education. Additional monies for students with dyslexia, dual language immersion and CTE (career and technology education) expansion in earlier grades are also in the bill.

No votes have yet been taken on the proposed legislation, Turner stressed, and the bills are likely to undergo iterations before finally being signed into law. Turner and his district director, Brenda Allen, have opened their new District 114 office at 10300 N. Central Expressway, Suite 198 (east of 75 and south of Meadow). You may drop in or give your opinions to Brenda.allen@house.texas.gov or 214-234-7625.