Conroe and Austin, February 2 – State Senator Brandon Creighton (Republican of Conroe) spoke with The Golden Hammer about his legislative priorities during the 86th Texas Legislative Session presently proceeding in Austin. Among his highest priorities is legislation he’s sponsoring with respect to Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey relief. Creighton told Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper,
“I plan to carry the Harvey relief bill for the Session. I’m sponsoring a ‘let Texans run Texas’ solution. The State of Texas must match at approximately the ten percent level to deploy the $30 billion federal funding bill already approved…The feds been relying on Texas as donor state for years but we’ve got to get it back for Harvey.”
Creighton is hoping that the Texas match for Harvey relief will only be in the $1.4 to $1.5 billion range. “I want to allow localities to decide how to deploy the funds with safeguards in place from the Texas Department of Emergency Management to make sure local entities handle the funds in a businesslike manner,” the Senator explained.
An additional part of Creighton’s Harvey legislation is to create a flood mitigation fund inside of the Texas Water Development Board, so that flood control entities within Texas would not have to rely upon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as heavily as they have in the past. The flood mitigation fund would receive a federal match in the range of one to one-and-a-half billion dollars, according to Creighton.
In related legislation, Creighton is authoring legislation that will specifically mandate the San Jacinto River Authority to provide notice and alerts before releasing large quantities of water from the Lake Conroe Dam.
Creighton explained that he “met with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen one on one on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss property tax reform, my ethics package, and Harvey. He said he feels favorably about all three and that he’s in harmony with Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. That’s exceptional news. Therefore, whether property tax reform will come down to how rural Republican members vote on the floor of the House.” Creighton explained that their districts are less likely to benefit from property tax reforms, because West Texas and rural areas are actually witnessing a decline in their property tax base rather than the increases occurring in faster growing parts of the State.
Property tax reform
Clearly, property tax reform is dominating the discussion in Austin and around Texas as a legislative priority. Creighton said that 60% of the members of the Texas Senate requested to be members on the Property Tax Reform Committee which Senator Paul Bettencourt, Republican of Houston, chairs. The Lieutenant Governor appointed Senator Creighton to the Committee.
Senate Bill 2, the property tax reform legislation which Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Speaker Bonnen, Senator Bettencourt, Creighton and others have backed, will primarily force local governments to hold rollback elections in November of each year where expenditures are 4% or more higher than in the previous year, unless the local government entities achieve the increased expenditures solely through increases in their tax rates.
As Creighton explained, “local government entities have been hiding behind tax increases imposed from higher property tax appraisals, while they keep tax rates steady and claim they aren’t raising taxes, when in actuality the local appraisal districts are raising the taxes for them. This bill would require transparency in those tax increases by forcing a rollback referendum election, unless local government leaders held public meetings at which they faced the voters and raised tax rates in order to obtain increased tax dollars for spending.”
Creighton noted that the State Budget “only grew 1.9% in the last biennium.” Actually, that’s a huge amount of growth, because the 85th Legislature should have reduced government spending. Nevertheless, 80% of local government entities – cities and counties – have been growing spending in excess of 4%, according to Creighton. As a result, the proposed legislation would have a real impact.
Additionally, Creighton is proposing his own legislation to require the election, rather than appointment, of members of local Appraisal Review Boards, who oversee citizen protests over appraised values. That reform, however, would require a Constitutional amendment, which would need a two-thirds vote in each House of the Texas Legislature.
Creighton is also introducing a local bill that will only apply to Montgomery County which would cap appraisal increases for both residential and commercial property to five percent (5%) in one year. That legislation would also limit appraisals of commercial properties to a comparable sales of property method of valuation and would disallow the “income approach” which allows the appraisal district to speculate how much income a business is generating for the property valuation.
Creighton is authoring ethics reform at two levels of government, the Texas Legislature and local governments. In the 85th Legislature, Creighton was a co-author of the ethics legislation which disallowed a legislator convicted of certain offenses from eligibility for a State pension. The reform legislation also contained disclosure requirements for some state contracts.
In the 86th Legislature, for the Texas Legislature, Creighton has proposed to disallow former legislators to act as lobbyists for one full legislative session after they leave office and to disallow lobbyists from running for the legislature for 1 to 2 years after they have acted as a lobbyist.
Creighton is also authoring a bill to implement ethics codes at the local level of government with enforcement powers similar to those contained within a Code of Ethics which El Paso County’s Commissioners Court approved after a local bill went into effect allowing only that county to take that action.
Montgomery County’s government has a Code of Ethics which is very vague and has no enforcement power whatsoever. Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and State Representative Steve Toth (Republican of The Woodlands) both won election in 2018 on promises that they would work hard to bring an enforceable Code of Ethics to Montgomery County first through legislative action in Austin. If Creighton is unable to pass the ethics reform statewide, then he is also considering filing a bill which would only apply to the counties within Senator District 4 which Creighton represents and which includes Montgomery County.
“I’m very optimistic about ethics reform at the county level. The Representatives in my District are very excited about this bill,” Creighton explained.
Creighton admitted that Constitutional Carry, which would allow the carrying of handguns without a license by any adult, “doesn’t have the votes. There are only maybe six to eight votes on the Senate floor right now.” Creighton is authoring legislation which will allow an unlicensed person to open carry a handgun during a declared disaster. He is also authoring a bill to expand the school marshal program to increase school security.
Creighton said, “I’m filing a bill that will address a problem with criminal prosecution of human trafficking. It would allow district attorneys to prosecute a person arrested in that county for trafficking through other counties as well. It’s a bill that is good for the Texas Attorney General’s Office too, because it increases their ability to enforce human trafficking laws.”
In addition to the Property Tax Reform Committee, Lieutenant Governor Patrick appointed Creighton as Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee.
Creighton also serves as Vice Chairman of the Water Committee. The Senator explained, “The Water Committee is chaired by a Senator from Lubbock. With Harvey recovery and so many needs we have that are water specific, having a Vice Chair spot is a big deal. It’s also important that my counterpart in the House – Representative Will Metcalf – is the Vice Chairman of the House Water Committee.”