In Texas, widely viewed as one of the reddest states in the nation, conservatives are working hard to get a large property tax relief package, an education savings account (ESA) program, and other landmark reforms to Governor Greg Abbott’s (R) desk before the state legislature adjourns its 88th regular session on May 30.
Governor Abbott has made school choice a top priority this year, barnstorming the state for months and speaking at numerous events in favor of providing Texas families with school choice, something that parents and children have in a growing number of states. Since the beginning of 2021, legislatures in ten states have enacted or expanded ESA programs. When Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation in March to provide universal access to ESAs in Florida, it was the fourth state to enact legislation in 2023 making ESAs available to children.
Recent polling continues to show strong public support for ESAs in Texas. Anew University of Texas-Austin Texas Politics Project poll, like many previous polls, found strong bipartisan backing for ESAs among Texas voters. That poll, which was conducted in April, found 60% of Texas voters overall support the creation of an ESA program, including 75% of Republicans surveyed and 46% of Democrats. The UT-Austin poll also found majorities of black (64%) and hispanic (56%) voters support the enactment of an ESA program in Texas.
Since Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R) passed an ESA bill, Senate Bill 8, out of the Texas Senate on April 6, those pushing for school choice in Texas have been focused on the House. Legislators know they likely face a special session this summer if significant property tax relief and a bill that expands school choice in a meaningful way is not enacted before the regular session ends.
Bills Conservatives Want To Fail
While school choice is one of the top reforms that conservatives would like to see Texas lawmakers send to Governor Abbott this month, there are other pending bills that many conservatives and free market oriented legislators would like to see voted down or allowed to die. One such proposal that is viewed as a legislative threat by conservatives is House Bill 4602/Senate Bill 1498, legislation that would raise taxes on Texans who lend their personal vehicle out through a car sharing platform. Such platforms are relatively new, but they’ve proven popular because they expand consumer options while providing people with a new source of income. These platforms have been described by some as “AirBnB, but for personal vehicles instead of personal homes.”
HB 4602/SB 1498 is part of a multi-state campaign by rental car company lobbyists who are seeking to impose higher taxes on a competitor. Rental car company representatives claim that they are at a disadvantage since they must collect and remit rental car excises taxes, while car sharing hosts do not.
Yet car sharing platforms, car sharing hosts, and other opponents of HB 4602/SB 1498 point out that the playing field is already uneven, with rental car companies currently possessing their own tax advantage relative to car sharing platforms. That’s because rental car companies do not pay sales tax on the vehicles that they rent out, whereas Texans who rent out their cars through an online platform have paid sales tax on their vehicle.
Critics of HB 4602/SB 1498 contend that it would further exacerbate an unlevel tax framework in favor of rental car companies at the expense of Texans. Unlike rental car companies, Texans who earn income through peer-to-peer car sharing services pay a motor vehicle sales tax. Rental car companies, meanwhile, collect gross rental receipts tax from their customers instead of paying the motor vehicle sales tax.
HB 4602/SB 1498 would force Texans to remit three taxes (the motor vehicle sales tax, gross rental receipts tax, and a local stadium tax). Rental car companies, meanwhile, only have to remit two of those taxes. Opponents of HB 4602/SB 1498 point out that the majority of peer-to-peer car sharing customers (or guests) in the state are Texas residents in need of a vehicle for in-state trips. Texas residents who would be adversely affected by HB 4602/SB 1498 already help pay for local stadiums through property taxes and general sales tax payments. Rental car company lobbyists insist they’re seeking tax parity with car sharing platforms, but critics view this proposal as bad policy that would further tilt the playing field in favor of rental car companies to the detriment of many Texans.
Another bill still pending in Austin that conservatives would like to see go down this month is House Bill 3395, legislation that would prohibit credit card interchange fees from applying to the tax portion of a transaction. In April, a coalition of conservative organizations sent a joint letter to Texas legislators urging opposition to HB 3395, stating that if this bill is enacted, state government “would be interfering in the free market in an attempt to control who bears the burden of collecting and remitting sales tax – risking higher costs for Texans in a time of out-of-control inflation.”
“Like every government attempt to control the market, there will be unintended consequences,” the April joint letter added. “By drastically increasing the amount of transactions processed, forcing processors to create new systems, software, and even new equipment, costs for small businesses and consumers in Texas would rise.”
California-Style Committee Proposed In TexasWhile heavy handed regulations like plastic bag bans and taxes are typically associated with blue states like California, they can still pop up in red states. Take House Bill 3210, legislation now pending in the Texas House of Representatives that aims to “address the proliferation of carryout bags” and “reduce a source of litter on the landscape.”
HB 3210 seeks to accomplish this mission through the creation of a new committee that will “develop and implement a statewide litter program to comprehensively address litter prevention and reduction.” The committee created by HB 3210 will also “evaluate existing state laws, and any administrative rules related to those laws, that address litter.”
Concerns that the committee created by HB 3210 could have negative unintended consequences were voiced at the April 20 hearing on the bill.
“This committee, as proposed, should be given the ability to assist recyclers collect and process the targeted items in a cost effective manner,” said Bryan Wallace, an Alvin resident, in testimony presented to the April committee hearing on HB 3210.
“However,” Wallace added, “If the goal of this committee becomes that of an enforcement agency with a punitive culture toward businesses, then I would be very opposed to using public funds to build such an organization.”
The Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl has written about how “leading progressive bills make utopian promises of huge new benefits and then assign a commission or agency to figure out how to make it all work.” Enactment of HB 3210 would have Texas taking a similar approach.
In addition to these bills that Texas conservatives would like to see defeated, there are many who believe that Republicans in both the state House and Senate are proposing to spend too much. One of those is Vance Ginn, Ph.D., an economist who has worked on public policy in Texas for a decade where he helped create the Conservative Texas Budget approach and is now a senior fellow at Americans for Tax Reform. Ginn says the current spending levels that have been proposed by both the House and Senate are too high.
“The Senate and House passed two-year budgets that substantially increase from what was appropriated last session to totals of more than $300 billion,” says Ginn. “These irresponsible budgets spend too much and provide too little in new property tax relief.”
“The amount of new property tax relief should be about $20 billion to be the ‘record relief’ desired by state leadership to account for inflation since the $14.2 billion in property tax relief in 2008-09,” Ginn adds. “Texas must remain competitive and not sit back on its laurels as other states are passing responsible budgets, providing substantial tax relief, and creating universal ESAs. But time is running out quickly.”
While Texas conservatives are playing offense in trying to enact property tax relief and expand school choice, it’s clear they still see many legislative threats looming in the final weeks of session in Austin. If House and Senate leaders are unable to get top priorities to Governor Abbott’s desk this month, however, there is a good chance they’ll have to return to Austin this summer to address unfinished business in a special session.
Originally posted at Forbes.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.