Commentary: Special session should deliver big, bold decisive action

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott called for a special legislative session with an ambitious agenda that is sure to make hard-working Texans smile. By passing reforms that return power to the governed, lawmakers again have a historic chance to expand opportunity and prosperity for all Texans.

Vested, special interests will undoubtedly be pulling out all the stop, though if principled lawmakers prevail, then Texans may see more control over their property taxes, an end to government collection of union dues and an expansion of educational freedoms.

STATESMAN AT THE LEGISLATURE: What makes a special session so special?

To make the most of this special session, lawmakers should start with meaningful reforms to property tax collection by returning local control to the taxpayers. Under the current system, voters must wait until property taxes go up by more than 8 percent before they can collect enough petition signatures to warrant a ballot vote on the next scheduled election.

During the 85th Legislature, Sen. Paul Bettencourt authored Senate Bill 2, which would remove the onerous petition gathering process altogether, fund local government at the same rate as the previous year with an allowed 4.9 percent raise; and only when additional tax dollars are needed, a ballot option on the next scheduled election would allow taxpayers a vote on just how much more government they are wanting and willing to pay for.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen authored an amendment that would increase transparency in the appraisal process, so that taxpayers can identify why their taxes increased and how they can take action, despite local officials claiming “no tax rate increase” due to local appraisal increases.

These common-sense reforms will inject greater accountability and transparency into the system and give communities more control over their local government.

Another important issue before lawmakers during this special session will be getting state government out of the business of collecting union dues. Collecting membership dues for private advocacy groups – including labor unions – is simply not an appropriate role for government.

Union members will still be able to voluntarily and automatically pay their dues through their own system such as with gym memberships and Netflix subscriptions.

Finally, Texas can make important strides in expanding educational opportunities for students with special needs by empowering their families to take greater control in customizing their child’s education. By establishing Education Saving Accounts (ESAs), families with special needs children would be able to spend a portion of their tax dollars on preapproved educational expenses: additional tutoring, homeschooling supplies/curriculum, and even private school tuition.

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ESAs continue to gain in popularity around the country for many reasons, maybe most notably because families can direct their ESA funds as they see fit, a major differentiator from vouchers where the state directs the funds to a private school. In states like Arizona and around the country, ESAs have helped to boost graduation rates, increase student test scores, and lower crime rates, all while saving taxpayer money, according to Dr. Patrick Wolfe, a professor at the University of Arkansas and a leading expert on school choice programs nationwide.

Our activists and staff connected more than 8,500 Texans with their legislators during the 85th session encouraging their elected officials to increase transparency and return decision making back to the local level. We are committed to continue amplifying Texan voices from around our great state to be heard by their elected officials in Austin during this upcoming special session.

Morris is the Texas deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity.

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