AUSTIN – The Texas Senate opened the door to billions of dollars in new taxes and fees in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Waco, Fort Hood, Corpus Christi, and Brownsville regions through its preliminary passage today of Senate Bill 855. The bill faces a final vote next Tuesday.
“As we initially feared when the bill was filed, what was originally presented as a tax bill for a single region now encompasses most of the state’s population centers,” said Justin Keener, the Foundation’s Vice President of Policy and Communications. “Several communities were added today without a public hearing or citizen input. This is a tax increase package with statewide implications, and all Texans need to read up on this bill over the weekend now that the Senate has opened it so broadly.”
While language was added today that ties implementation of the bill to voter approval of a constitutional amendment ending the diversion of transportation funds, Keener called the amendment little more than a smoke-screen on the issue. “This bill specifically allows for increasing transportation taxes at the same time the state continues to divert existing transportation taxes,” Keener said. “These new taxes could take effect as early as 2011, six years before the transportation diversions would end.”
Keener criticized SB 855 for failing to provide meaningful taxpayer protections or even basic transparency provisions. “The bill forbids having separate ballot items for the capital costs of a project and for the ongoing maintenance and operations taxes,” Keener said. “And if these taxes raise more money than is needed to fund the projects, there is no mechanism to return the excess funds to the taxpayers.”
The Foundation has been a leading advocate for government transparency, working closely with state and local leaders to post financial information online, and launching texasbudgetsource.com as a portal for interested taxpayers.
“Given DART’s recent billion-dollar accounting error, one would think that our senators would want as many sets of eyes as possible looking at how these new taxes will be spent,” Keener said. “But SB 855 does not require agencies receiving these funds to post their check registers online for the public to see, and does not even provide authority for the Comptroller or the State Auditor to review their books. This is an engraved invitation to a future financial scandal.”
Keener called on senators to closely scrutinize constitutional questions raised by Sen. Steve Ogden as to whether the bill could be challenged in court on a variety of grounds.
Justin Keener is Vice President of Policy and Communications for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin. More information can be found on the Foundation’s website, www.TexasPolicy.com.
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