Valley’s wish list for 2019: Education finance, online sales tax on legislative agenda
HARLINGEN — The area’s big guns are heading for the state’s battleground.
In Harlingen and San Benito, city leaders have been meeting with their legislative consultants to finalize the agendas they will carry into the state’s 86th Legislature, which opens Tuesday.
Across the Rio Grande Valley, many cities are banding together to promote regional interests.
Those include a push for public education finance reform and a bill that would allow cities to collect on-line sales tax revenue.
“Every city’s different,” said Chris Gonzales, president and chief executive officer of the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce, who serves on the city’s legislative team. “What’s good in the north might not be good in the Valley.”
In Harlingen, Gonzales is working with the consulting team of Terral Smith and William Yarnell to push the city’s interests.
Meanwhile, in San Benito veteran lobbyist Parker McCollough will promote the city’s agenda.
During the 140-day session in Austin, the consultants will work with state lawmakers to advance locally-introduced legislation while opposing bills that could hurt the area.
The top of Harlingen’s agenda includes funding the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s general academics as well as its School of Medicine, Mayor Chris Boswell stated.
The city is also supporting the state’s push for public education finance reform, Boswell stated.
The Texas Commission on Public School Finance is aiming to increase funding to help more low-income students boost academic performance and enter college.
“We want to get the right money into the right areas,” Gonzales said.
The city is also pushing Texas State Technical College’s funding priorities, Boswell stated.
At TSTC, educators want the state to continue funding the college based on students’ outcomes, including their employment and salaries, Javier De Leon, the college’s vice president for governmental affairs, said.
During the last legislative session, tight finances led to a drop in funding.
“Because of the state’s budget challenges during the last session, TSTC fell short of our anticipated funding,” De Leon stated. “We are asking that we receive reimbursement based on our approved funding formula and our performance outcomes.”
Like San Benito, the city is pushing what Boswell calls “fair allocation of e-commerce retail sales tax allocations.”
Gonzales said a bill would allow cities to collect on-line sales tax revenue.
As internet purchases dominate more and more of the nation’s retail market, cities outside the taxing jurisdictions of companies such as Amazon are not receiving their share of sales tax revenue.
“E-Commerce pertaining to point-of-sale and where sales taxes are levied and the entity that benefits is a topic that needs to be re-addressed by the state Legislature,” San Benito City Manager Manuel De La Rosa stated.
De La Rosa stated the city’s agenda supports other local interests.
“City administration along with its executive team and consultants will monitor the legislative session and work through the process to support legislation that is beneficial to San Benito and Cameron County,” De La Rosa stated.
The upcoming Legislature pits a battle between state and municipal power.
“City administration is working with its state representatives on legislation that may be introduced that harms the city’s interests or erodes the authority of local municipalities to govern themselves,” De La Rosa said.
In the Legislature’s last session, the state powers eroded some municipal authority.
“In the last session, we saw state’s taking more control over municipalities,” Gonzales said.
For example, during the last session several pieces of legislation curbed local power, including a statewide ban on texting while driving which superseded more rigid hands-free cell phone bans in more than 45 cities, including Austin and San Antonio.
De La Rosa is also counting on the Legislature to help the city fund an $8.5 million upgrade of its sewer system.
“The city of San Benito has aging infrastructure and my hopes are that the state Legislature will make grants and other funding options more viable and available,” De La Rosa stated.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has given the city until March 2023 to upgrade six sewer lift stations or face severe penalties stemming from a series of sewage spills nearly 10 years ago.