TEA Party Caucus Advisory Committee
to the TEA Party Caucus of the Texas Legislature
December 11, 2012
Contact: JoAnn Fleming, Chair, (903) 360-2858
Legislative Priorities for the 83rd Legislative Session and Beyond
Make Texas Strong
Acknowledgement: Excellent research and/or policy papers from the TX Public Policy Foundation, Empower Texans, Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF), the Heartland Institute, and input from grassroots citizen activists were valuable resources for this document. Our grateful acknowledgement does not imply nor assert the organizations noted herein have either endorsed or agree with this document.
TEA Party Caucus Advisory Committee Members: Chair – JoAnn Fleming (Tyler), Chuck Molyneaux (Allen), Robert Gonzalez (Clear Lake); Konni Burton (N/E Tarrant area); Dr. Julie Turner (The Woodlands); Felicia Cravens (Houston); Robin Lennon (Kingwood); Sharon Hall (San Antonio); and Katrina Pierson (Garland/Dallas).
The Advisory Committee’s legislative priorities have not been presented to legislators in the TEA Party Caucus, any legislators outside the TEA Party Caucus, nor have they been released to any statewide official. Maintaining our independence is necessary as we work with elected officials; therefore, we are first releasing the Advisory Committee’s priorities to the public through the news media and social media.
We do not require agreement with any official on all issues in order to work with them on those areas of agreement that will be for the long-term good of Texas. We are building coalitions of support among various constituencies and among various elected and appointed officials to solve problems to make Texas strong for working families, small businesses, and future generations of Texans.
We support the five principles in Governor Perry’s State Budget Compact and many of our legislative priorities are tied directly to those principles:
1. Practice Truth in Budgeting
2. Support a Constitutional limit of spending to the growth of population & inflation
3. Oppose any new taxes or tax increases; make the small business tax exemption
4. Preserve a strong Rainy Day Fund
5. Cut unnecessary and duplicative government programs and agencies
The State Budget, Taxes & Transportation
The Texas Legislature, the Governor, Lt. Governor, and House Speaker should work together to balance the state’s budget without accounting gimmicks, deferrals, and past practices of various types of budget trickery. They should balance the budget with available revenues; work to get state government down to its core constitutional functions by eliminating any departments, agencies, commissions, programs, or funds that fall outside those core functions, and in turn, plow those savings into areas where more funding is justified.
The core constitutional functions of our state government are public education; transportation; the justice system of criminal and civil courts, law enforcement, and corrections (state prisons); management of natural resources; state emergency services; and the administration of HHS-Medicaid services.
The chronic unwillingness of the federal government to cut spending and develop a decisive plan to reduce our $16 trillion and growing federal debt makes it all the more necessary for Texas to get its fiscal house in order. Texans deserve a budget balanced without new taxes, fees, or revenue streams, and they deserve the security and independence of a preserved Rainy Day Fund.
The usual across-the-board spending cuts are not enough. Cutting 2%, 5% or 10% of something state government shouldn’t be doing in the first place still leaves us with core functions short-changed and an unsustainable and unhealthy pattern of budget-balancing tricks. Our nation needs a strong Texas; therefore, the 83rd Texas Legislature must begin to reduce the state’s dependence on federal dollars, resist more state debt, and get our state’s own fiscal house in order.
We support the five principles in Governor Perry’s State Budget Compact:
Getting Back to Basics – Make State Spending Fit into a Constitution-sized Box by: eliminating departments, agencies, commissions, and programs that exceed the core constitutional functions of state government (listed above). Texans for a Conservative Budget has compiled a list of spending items, which can be eliminated or reduced by streamlining. [Source: http://www.texaspolicy.com/center/fiscal-policy/reports/real-texas-budget-solutions-2013-and-beyond] Lawmakers should look to this list of reductions before they ever utter the words “we need sources of new revenue.” The Conservative Budget list includes the Texas Enterprise Fund, Texas Emerging Technology Fund, and the Special Events Fund, which is an extended subsidy for Formula 1 racing and other entertainment venues. These state funds mirror the federal government’s practice of tinkering with the economy. Central planning through subsidies is not the proper role of government in a free market society. State government has no business attempting to pick winners and losers and doling out tax dollars to special interests any more than the federal government does. It is time to end this form of corporate welfare in Texas.
Stop Chasing Federal Dollars – Make Texas Strong & Independent of Federal Strings; reduce state reliance on federal dollars and restrict all new federal grant programs.
Implement Tax and Expenditure Limits – State and local government spending from ALL sources should increase only by the sum of population growth plus inflation and no more. We support a constitutional amendment to set this limit in order to protect current and future taxpayers from excessive state spending.
Budget Transparency – practice truth in budgeting by ending diversions; a tax or fee should go to fund the original intent of the legislation that created the tax or fee; should a surplus occur, the fee or tax should be reduced, and the surplus used to reduce state debt. Once the original purpose of the tax or fee has been fulfilled (to fund a one-time capital expense or improvement, such as a software update, the tax or fee should be sunset.
Reforming Texas’ Public Pension Systems – According to recent reports from the Texas State Comptroller, the Texas retirement system, while fairly well funded compared to other states, is still legally liable to pay defined benefits totaling 10 to 20 times what state employees paid into the system. If investment returns drop or benefits are increased, taxpayers would be on the hook for the added exposure.
The legislature should institute these reforms: Freeze enrollment in the current defined benefit system and enroll newly hired or unvested employees in a 401(k)-style defined contribution pension plan.
Zero-based Budgeting – starts a budget from zero and requires justification for requested funding for each line item of a budget. This budgeting discipline has not been used by the State of Texas for the last nine years (2003), but should be instituted immediately to ensure taxpayers get the most value for their tax dollars.
A zero-budgeting bill has been pre-filed by freshman State Representative Matt Krause (Ft. Worth). The bill creates a system of zero-based budgeting for all agencies of state government and introduces zero-based budgeting to the Sunset review process.
The Rainy Day Fund (also known as the Economic Stabilization Fund) – should only be spent on one-time emergency items or tax relief. The fund should NOT be spent for ongoing expenses. If we truly believe in personal responsibility, then the State of Texas should lead and preserve the Rainy Day Fund for true natural and man-made disasters. We need look no further than the recent example of the devastation wreaked by super storm Sandy. The states of New York and New Jersey immediately turned to the federal government for relief, and many of the people of those states are still waiting, months later. The Rainy Day Fund should be preserved so that Texas can be strong and less dependent on the federal government in times of disaster.
Reducing State Debt – We should avoid a state fiscal cliff by resisting the temptation to add to our state debt just because interest rates are low. Soaring debt is just as wrong for our state as it is for the federal government.
Local Debt Reforms – We support Comptroller Combs’ recommendations for legislative action that would: require more ballot transparency for bond elections by incorporating key debt-related information on the ballot to ensure greater fiscal control through the people; incentivize school districts to use the most cost-effective construction and design models to lower costs; to encourage dual-use facility arrangements across school districts; to require school districts to disclose cost and details of all construction and renovation projects, including an inventory of existing facilities; and lastly, to give the Bond Review Board more authority to ensure better data collection on education debts.
Curb non-recallable forms of debt such as Certificates of Obligation – require a vote of the people to approve all forms of long-term local debt.
Restructuring state government — Texas state government must be restructured:
The Texas Legislature should mandate a state government-restructuring project for the interim, which would:
The Margins Tax – Abolish the gross margins tax, and begin by making the small business exemption permanent. The tax has underperformed, is complex, costly, and difficult to comply with. The tax is unfair as it is collected even from businesses that show no profit.
Property Tax Reform – Abolish and replace with a reformed sales tax that includes an adjusted tax rate and base.
Sales Tax – any increase in the sales tax base or the sales tax rate must be accompanied by reductions in other taxes. State and local governments should come to rely on consumption taxes as their main revenue generators.
State Income Tax – a non-starter! Texas is one of nine states without an income tax and should remain so. Texas should continue to encourage economic growth (a healthy tax base) by keeping taxes low and adopting pro-growth reforms.
Current transportation policy in Texas commits Texas to a future we do not want:
• More clogged roadways
• More tolls for drivers
• More diversions of tax dollars to projects that increase rather than reduce congestion
• More public debt and interest payments
• Higher fuel & maintenance costs for drivers dealing with congestion and poorly maintained roads
• More erosion of private property rights to condemn land for economic development and non-transportation revenue purposes
• Growing state bureaucracy to manage all of the “innovative” strategies to create new streams of revenue.
We believe we can do better. We are asking our state lawmakers to turn to sound fiscal planning and to return transportation to its core purpose – guaranteeing the free association of people to exercise freedom in the market place for the exchange of goods and services. We believe free market commerce depends on an effective and efficient transportation system. We believe taxpayers deserve the highest quality services at the very best price with the least amount of government restrictions in conjunction with the safeguarding of private property rights and a decreased dependence on debt. Transportation is a core constitutional responsibility of state government that impacts all Texans and all who come to our state to conduct business and to freely associate.
Overview of solutions:
• Return to pay-as-you-go road financing. Stop building roads with debt. According to federal data, TX has the highest road debt of any state at $31 billion, not counting local toll road debt.
• Ensure adequate tax revenues for Texans to control their own transportation destiny rather than being subject to the whims of the federal government, interest rates, and private toll road companies. Redirect transportation-related taxes to roads by ending diversions of the gasoline tax, dedicating/tightly restricting vehicle sales taxes and registration fees to adding road capacity.
• Ban ‘public private partnerships’ that hand public roads to private corporations.
• Prohibit tolling existing free lanes, and/or the conversion of public right of way into toll roads, and stop paying for toll projects with taxpayer dollars. Require all toll projects be self-financed and prohibit taxpayer bailouts of and subsidies for losses in toll revenues and failed toll projects. Ban ‘non-compete’ agreements that prevent the state from building new capacity.
• Repeal ‘system financing,’ which allows toll revenues from one corridor to be used to prop-up or finance another.
• Prohibit leasing out of public right-of-way to a private company when the land was condemned for a ‘public use.’
* Make elimination of congestion the top priority of TxDOT; end use of road funds for transit, parks, bike and walking trails
*downsize the Department of Transportation (part of a state government- restructuring project)
• Prohibit taxing authority by unelected boards via constitutional amendment.
Support DPS Officers
For a strong Texas, we must have a strong state law enforcement. The Department of Public Safety is losing officers to metro police departments and other law enforcement agencies that pay far more than the state of Texas. This is wrong. These officers are in harm’s way every minute they are on duty, and two facts increasingly imperil their lives, 1) the growing threat of foreign nationals with cartel ties coming through our open borders, and 2) one of the many signs of decline in our culture – a growing disrespect for law enforcement. We strongly believe the state’s pay scale and benefits plan for DPS officers should be reviewed and adjusted to attract and keep the finest law enforcement officers possible for the protection of the life, liberty, and property of Texans.
Health Care in Texas
2012-2013 biennium budget – legislature appropriated approximately $39 billion in All Funds for the Medicaid program alone; 2nd largest single item in state budget. TX pays roughly 40% of Medicaid costs and feds approximately 60%.
Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (Medicaid for Children)
Health Insurance Regulations – fight ObamaCare federal mandates with all means possible, including state compacts or a Coalition of States, legislative resistance via exercise of 10th Amendment rights, and legal action, if necessary; reject PPACA exchanges, and eliminate all state mandates not required by federal law.
Consumer-driven Health Care – state compacts – allow Texans to purchase health insurance offered by providers in other states; offer state employees an option to enroll in a Health Savings Account/High Deductible Health Plan; clarify state law to ensure HSAs are not subject to small group requirements, which drive up costs.
Scope of Practice – Only 23 of 254 Texas counties have adequate levels of health care professionals. To provide more affordable care, repeal regulations on the use of Advanced Practice Nurses; permit Nurse Practitioners to practice to the extent of their education and training defined by the Board of Nursing; allow Board of Nursing to determine prescriptive authority.
State Employee Health Benefits – Texas taxpayers pay the full cost of premiums for state employees and half the cost of the premium for dependents. Require employees to pay a portion of monthly premiums, as do most private sector employees; offer high deductible plan and HSAs to control costs; incentivize enrollment in HSAs and high deductible plans.
K-12 Education – more freedom for parents and students
Home-rule School Districts
Funding: the Cost of Texas Education
What we are getting for the investment? Academic Accountability
Vocational/Technical Education – expand opportunities for students who are not college-bound
Federal Regulations – Pass an interstate compact focused on freeing the state and local schools from federal regulations
Free Markets v. Central Planning of Crony Capitalism
End the Special Events Fund, TX Emerging Technology Fund, TX Enterprise Fund
Constitutional Amendment to Support Free Markets and End Crony Capitalism: The state of Texas is prohibited from “investing” tax dollars in special interest entertainment venues and private sector companies under the guise of economic development.
We support the Texas A&M student initiative for concealed carry on campus. Five states have provisions that allow concealed carry on campus: Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin. We also support State Representative Dan Flynn’s pre-filed legislation that would change the required number of classroom hours for the initial concealed carry license from 10 hours to 4 hours. The number of hours was set in statute before the DPS program was written and has never been reviewed or revised. This change would not impact the required course materials, the written test, and does not include time spent at the range or the shooting proficiency exam. We also support providing CHLs the opportunity to renew licenses in a continuous process on line.
Texas Election Reform
Goal: Free and Fair Elections through System-, Process-, and Ballot Integrity (Ensure Only Eligible Citizens Vote and Vote Once in Each Election)
Address Data, System, and Process Defects – from the state level to the local level, including voter registration
Voter Fraud – reforms needed to eliminate voter fraud in mail ballots
Implement reforms to ensure proper and timely delivery of military ballots and the timely counting of military ballots on all races
Texas “home land security”
Banning Sanctuary Cities/Counties in Texas – sanctions for violators; end to state grants
Support Law Enforcement – Strengthen law enforcement to protect citizens, legal residents, and businesses from cartels, organized crime, and human-trafficking; increase penalties for trafficking minors and confront the US Justice Department about its lack of enforcement as it pertains to trafficking minors. Require the state Attorney General to defend state and local law enforcement officers against actions brought by the United States Department of Justice regarding the enforcement of federal and state laws pertaining to persons found to be in the country illegally. The legislature should ensure aerial and surveillance support resources are provided to assist state law enforcement in the border security the federal government is failing to provide.
Require the Administrative Office of the Courts to provide the Texas DHS and DPS a list by county of all illegal aliens that (1) have been detained and (2) appeared in court for a violation of state law. Each report is required to include the name of the illegal alien, the violation, the judge, and the outcome of the case including whether the law enforcement agency released the illegal alien, kept him in custody, or transferred him to the custody of federal immigration authorities.
Employment verification to ensure legal workers
Employer Sanctions: End Employee Misclassification & Payroll Fraud; impose penalties on companies that intentionally misclassify employees as independent contractors when they are working on government contracts; make it a felony or high-fine misdemeanor for anyone who knowingly employs illegal workers. For those found guilty of hiring illegal workers, business licenses should be forfeited in addition to fines. Penalties must be severe enough to encourage the use of E-verify to determine individuals that may be classified as legal workers.
Cost tracking and reporting: counting the cost of illegal immigration to Texas Taxpayers; require state agencies dealing with Primary and Secondary Education, Higher Education, Health and Human Services, and Criminal Justice to track and report the cost of undocumented alien residents. To see how state agencies can track these costs, see James Bernsen’s report entitled “The Cost of Illegal Immigration to Texas” from the Lone Star Report, available via Google search.
State licensing – legal status required to get a state business or professional license
End the Texas Dream Act – repeal in-state tuition breaks for foreign-born children of illegal aliens and file bill for a constitutional amendment that prohibits same.
Stop the Magnets of an Open Social Safety Net – Codify & Mandate Eligibility for Access to Social Services, including local government services, such as non-life threatening health care services under the state mandated indigent health care program.
Close loopholes allowing illegal immigrants to collect welfare benefits through TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families). A child born to illegal immigrants is deemed a US citizen under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. Current law allows illegal alien parents to apply for welfare in the name of their children and to be in control of the money doled out by the government. Since an illegal immigrant is ineligible for legal employment in the US, they cannot fulfill the work requirement of TANF; however, under current TX law, illegal parents can get welfare for their kids and NOT participate in work programs! Moreover, according to the former TX Workforce Commissioner, the “temporary” time limit restrictions on receiving benefits under TANF do not even apply for those collecting welfare benefits for their children. In other words, we give them unlimited benefits. Note: Senator Jane Nelson has prefiled Senate Bill 11, which makes many needed changes to TANF.
Require the State to Review Tax Returns for Possible Identity Theft – Require the Texas Department of Revenue to conduct record searches and identify instances where multiple tax returns have been filed under the same social security number or ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). Intent is to reduce identity theft committed by illegal aliens who use false identification for employment. This section also requires the Department of Revenue to report any violations of identity theft to the Attorney General or district attorney for prosecution.
The Texas legislature should pass a resolution stating its support of streamlining the process to become a citizen of the United States. The current process is so mired in federal bureaucracy that it often takes more than a decade to complete the process. The Texas Legislature should encourage a meaningful, deliberate, streamlined process to replace the current system.
International Law is NOT for Texas courts. Only the US Constitution, the Texas Constitution, and Texas statutes should govern Texas courts. Enact legislation prohibiting the use of any international law to settle any matter in Texas courts.
Fight the Big Four – ObamaCare, the EPA, the Department of Interior, and Agenda 21
Current Texas law defies our state constitution by allowing the government to take property and use it for any purpose. This must change.
The “buy-back” provision in the 82nd Texas Legislature’s SB 18 did not fix the problems with eminent domain. Instead, the opposite is true because government entities can easily achieve the criteria to keep the seized property without ever using it for the purpose specified in the condemnation proceedings; plus, they have ten years to meet the necessary criteria in order to keep the property.
The legislature should grant property owners the right to repurchase their property if the initial use of the property taken from them is not the public use for which the property was acquired.
Regulatory Takings – amend the Texas Real Private Property Rights Preservation Act to cover regulatory takings of property by cities. This will ensure compensation for property owners for loss of value due to new regulations (zoning) on land use by cities, which were exempted by the 1995 Act.
Public Use vs. Public Purpose – Under the US and Texas Constitutions, eminent domain can only be exercised for public use – not public purpose, but most grants of eminent domain authority by the Texas Legislature allow takings for public purposes. All references in Texas statutes should be changed back to the constitutional definition of public use.
Property Rights and the Texas Courts – Legislature should shift burden of proof in all property rights cases from landowner to condemnor. The constitutional right to both own and use property should be restored through a constitutional amendment. This is necessary because current case law, held by the Texas Supreme Court, says, “Property owners do not acquire a constitutionally protected vested right in property uses.”
Higher Education Quality
Higher Education Affordability
Sunshine Needed – Financial Disclosures for State Elected Officials
State officials exempt themselves from too many “sunshine” laws. Legislation is needed that would require all elected state officials to make financial disclosures that would at least meet financial disclosure requirements at the federal level for federal officials. The financial disclosures should be posted online.
Retirement benefits of state officials should be fully disclosed and posted online. The practice of “double-dipping” should be prohibited. A state elected official should be barred from taking state retirement pay while still being paid as a state official.
Other constitutional amendments:
Term limits: We support the term limits constitutional amendment bill pre-filed by Senator Kevin Eltife that would limit statewide elected officials, including the governor, to two consecutive terms.
End taxation without representation: the legislature is prohibited from surrendering its taxing authority to unelected boards, committees, commissions, agencies, and toll road authorities.