88th Texas legislative session begins Jan. 10

The 88th Texas legislative session begins tomorrow. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says his biggest priority will be lowering Texas property taxes. 

Katie Naranjo, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, and Matt Mackowiak, chair of the Travis County GOP, discussed the upcoming Texas legislative session.

REBECCA THOMAS: Matt, what is the single biggest issue Texas lawmakers need to tackle when the session begins? Is it property taxes? 

MATT MACKOWIAK: Yeah, I think it is. I mean, I think there's probably broad agreement on that. Property taxes have been out of control for a long time. It's a complicated issue as a lot of reasons for it. Tax rates are set by counties, but valuations, appraisals, it's all totally out of control right now. And it's pricing people out of their homes. It's forcing people to move. It's making people feel like they don't own their home, even if it's paid off. And so, thankfully, we do have a very healthy economy here in Texas with a significant rainy day fund. It looks like the legislature is going to dedicate at least $10 billion of that money to pay down property taxes during the current biennium. And then I think you're going to see them dedicate future. Call it profit, I guess future money for the rainy day fund to try to cut property taxes in half over the next ten years. That's the goal they've set out. The governor, lieutenant governor seemed to be very aligned on that. And I think most legislators, at least in the Republican side, agree. 

REBECCA THOMAS: Katie, what should the biggest issue be? What do you want to see focused on? 

KATIE NARANJO: How we spend our budget. Having a budget, that's a moral document that actually supports Texans and creates a strong economy. We have an economy that's great for companies, but not great for teachers, for health care workers, first responders, folks who are in the service industry, which is the vast majority of jobs in Texas. And so while that's right, you know, property tax relief is going to be important. We also need to look at the moneys that they're going to spend investing in Texas and how we can invest in Texans, not just the Enterprise fund.  

REBECCA THOMAS: Matt, two years ago, lawmakers were taxed with fixing the grid. They did make some changes. GOP lawmakers also made banning abortion their top priority, though. Will there be any surprises like that this session, do you think? 

MATT MACKOWIAK: Well, I don't know about surprises. Of course, you never know what could happen out in the world in terms of the environment. Things can change. They have to react, perhaps. But in terms of the major issues facing this session, I certainly think property taxes, number one, I think school choice and educational reform is going to be a major push. The governor has made clear he wants to see a parental bill of rights move forward. You're going to see that, I think definitely proceed in the Senate. The House might be more of a challenge, but that's really important. Did the dollars follow the student and that we fund students, not systems? Third is the expiration of Chapter 313, which are these provisions that try to provide subsidies to the private sector when they create jobs in our state. And that's true for renewables super manufacturing companies. Those provisions expire at the end of the year, and I think the House and Senate are going to try to see if they can get together on perhaps extending them with some changes and some more transparency. So I see those as the big issues facing this session.

REBECCA THOMAS: Katie, there was a lot of contention during the last session. Do you think Democratic and Republican lawmakers will be able to work together this session? 

KATIE NARANJO: I hope so. I know that the Democrats are looking forward to working on behalf of all Texans this legislative session, and I'll be curious to see if on the first day tomorrow, the Republicans are able to be unified around the speaker, as we saw from the last week in Washington, D.C., where Republicans had a hard time getting their votes together. And so it'll be interesting to see if that happens in the Texas legislature and the issues for this session in particular, if we have any surprises. I think generally what folks hope for is that the lawmakers come together to expand Medicaid, to actually make meaningful investments in Texans and Texas infrastructure, whether it's with educators where first responders and health care workers, etc.. And so I'll be curious to see if the Republicans can join the Democrats in putting Texans first in the budget. And that's the main focus is the budget this session.

REBECCA THOMAS: Okay, we are out of time. But Katie, Matt, thank you both for sharing your time and perspectives with us tonight.