Governor declares state of disaster in long list of counties
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on June 1 declared a state of disaster in 31 counties that have been hit repeatedly with severe weather and flooding in recent days.
The counties named in the declaration include: Austin, Bandera, Bastrop, Brazoria, Brazos, Burleson, Coleman, Colorado, Erath, Fayette, Fort Bend, Grimes, Hidalgo, Hood, Jasper, Kleberg, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Lubbock, Montgomery, Palo Pinto, Parker, Polk, Robertson, San Jacinto, Tyler, Walker, Waller, Washington and Wharton.
Abbott on May 27 elevated the activation level of the state operations center in Austin and urged Texans to stay on high alert and to heed local officials’ warnings.
State agencies responding included the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Division of Emergency Management, Texas Military Department, Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas General Land Office, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service/Texas Task Force 1, Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Animal Health Commission. The American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other volunteer organizations also responded.
Straus issues assignments
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on June 2 called on two House committees to jointly study key aspects of the state’s school finance system and make recommendations before the 2017 legislative session.
Straus, R-San Antonio, gave two new interim charges to the House Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Public Education. The charges, he said, follow a recent Texas Supreme Court opinion that the state’s education finance system, while constitutional, is “undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement.” They also build on Speaker Straus’ earlier calls for the Public Education Committee to study the Cost of Education Index and school districts’ facility needs.
First charge: “Current law requires the elimination on September 1, 2017, of Additional State Aid for Tax Relief, which was intended to offset the cost of tax-rate compressions enacted in 2006. Review how this loss of funding would impact school districts.”
“ASATR” is funding that the state provided to school districts in order to encourage them to reduce their tax rates to $1.00 per $100 in property valuation in 2006. State law calls for that extra state funding to disappear in 2017 unless the Legislature acts. In the current school year, ASATR funding provides an estimated $350 million to the state’s public education system.
Second Charge: “Study the use of local property taxes to fund public education and its effects on educational quality and on Texas taxpayers. Specifically, recommend ways to reverse the increasing reliance on recapture payments to fund public education statewide.”
As property values have increased, more school districts have become subject to recapture, meaning that some of their local property tax dollars are sent to the state and distributed to school districts with less property wealth. For example, the Houston Independent School District is now facing the prospect of sending a recapture payment of $175 million to the state in 2017. Since 2006, the number of school districts paying recapture has increased from 142 to 238.
Sales tax revenue drops
State sales tax revenue in May totaled $2.41 billion, down 7.1 percent compared to May 2015, the comptroller’s office reported June 2.
But, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar explained, “The comparison in sales tax revenue to the previous year is unfavorable because May 2015 collections were abnormally strong.
“In fact, May 2015 saw the second-highest monthly collections in Texas history. The decline is largely due to continued drops in collections from oil- and natural gas-related sectors, reflecting the continued contraction in drilling activity,” Hegar said.
Hegar also said state franchise tax revenue for fiscal 2016 totaled $3.7 billion through May, ahead of earlier projections included in the certification revenue estimate. This amount is lower than franchise tax revenues collected during the same period last fiscal year due to permanent tax rate cuts enacted during the 2015 session of the Texas Legislature.
Hurricane season arrives
Hurricane season began June 1 and continues through Nov. 30.
The Texas Department of Public Safety marked the season’s official beginning with a recommendation that Texans develop emergency plans without delay.
The DPS suggested residents:
- Assemble an emergency kit;
- Review hurricane evacuation maps and select a route to safety;
- Plan how family members and pets will evacuate safely;
- Consider special needs for family members who are older or are disabled;
- Stay informed about changing weather conditions; and
- Visit www.texasprepares.org.