When the 85th Texas Legislature convenes on Jan. 10, 2017, preserving control over local affairs will be top-of-mind for San Antonio City officials and lobbyists.
Government & Public Affairs Director Jeff Coyle briefed City Council on the 2017 legislative program Wednesday afternoon. Major points of discussion included maintaining revenue caps, annexation authority, increasing transportation funding, and avoiding legislation that would weaken LGBTQIA non-discrimination.
Mayor Ivy Taylor, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, City departments, a Council sub-committee, and partner community organizations all shared their input on the legislative program.
Councilman Joe Krier (D9) chairs the Council’s Intergovernmental Relations sub-committee. He and Council members Ron Nirenberg (D8) and Rebecca Viagran (D3), who also are in the sub-committee, met Tuesday to review the draft legislative program. Krier praised the lobbying team, which includes the firms Focused Advocacy and Texas Lobby Group, and consultant Marc Rodriguez, all Austin-based.
Coyle described the legislative program as broad enough for the City to react to issues that come up, and specific enough to reflect basic City priorities. Pre-filing of bills begins Monday, Nov. 14, six days after Election Day.
“I think this plan provides a framework to guide our staff and lobbying team as the session proceeds,” Krier said. “The bedrock of it is the preservation and maintenance of local control.”
Overall, the City and its legislative lobbyists plan to support legislation that would benefit San Antonio, and oppose bills that threaten to undermine local self-government principles and mandate increased local costs.
“We don’t believe authority should be taken away from local officials who represent the city,” Coyle said.
Mayor Taylor said state legislators must realize that not all of their proposed solutions are applicable across such a large, diverse state.
“There’s no way one size can fit all,” she added.
Taylor cited North Carolina as an example of a state losing both business and major events over a controversial anti-LGBTQIA law, House Bill 2. City Council should strive to “focus on policies that apply to us and our needs and circumstances, and not on issues that divide us," Taylor said.
Such legislation would likely impact San Antonio's NCAA Final Four games coming in 2018. The NBA relocated its 2017 All-Star game after North Carolina passed the bill that prevents local non-discrimination ordinances that protect the LGBTQIA community. In order to ensure that new laws do not negatively impact the city’s and state’s economic competitiveness, Taylor said Texas should promote “an inclusive environment" for businesses and talent to thrive.
More than 1,000 businesses have pledged support of the Texas Competes coalition, which provides a "unified voice for the Texas business community on the clear economic and business case for a Texas that offers fair treatment" of LGBTQIA people.
Tax Revenue Cap
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republican state lawmakers have long pledged local tax relief. Patrick’s appointed panel, Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform & Relief, is expected to propose lowering the property tax revenue cap from the current 8% to 4% next year. Leaders of many Texas cities have argued such a cap would hinder their ability to meet infrastructure needs and other basic services while they struggle to keep pace with growth rates.
“That’s a high, high priority for us,” Coyle said.
Texas cities are also concerned that state lawmakers will renew a push to weaken municipalities’ annexation power. Earlier this summer the San Antonio City Council discussed scaling back the City’s plans to annex up to five areas of unincorporated Bexar County. The City sees this latest round of proposed annexation as a proactive effort to stay ahead of growth, but some Council members have expressed concerns about the annexation plans as opposition has arisen in some of the targeted areas.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers have made it more difficult for cities to annex in recent years.
The call for increased transportation funds, including improving funding sources for VIA Metropolitan Transit, echoed Nirenberg's recent Rivard Report op-ed in which he advocated for the City to move forward with a proposal to reallocate $10 million in Advanced Transportation District money to VIA.
Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said at Wednesday’s meeting that boosting VIA’s funding would enhance efforts to make San Antonio a multimodal city.
Other top priorities in San Antonio’s legislative program included securing more funds to help preserve and develop The Alamo and its surrounding plaza, an initiative that the State supported with a nearly $32 million package in 2015, as well as protecting local military bases and making sure that encroaching development does not affect their operations.
Top image: (File photo) Mayor Ivy Taylor listens to a presentation from City staff while in B Session on Aug. 3, 2016. Photo by Scott Ball.