Austin prepares for the Texas legislature

When Texas lawmakers return to the state capital in January, they can expect a budget deficit of $ 4.6 billion, according to a prediction from Controller Glenn Hegar. The deficit is the result of the pandemic and associated economic decline, as well as falling oil prices, Hegar said. Just a year ago, the Comptroller predicted a surplus of $ 2.89 billion. But every state will face a similar deficit, with many experiencing worse economies than Texas.

While figuring out how to deal with this deficit is the first job of any legislature, despite the pandemic, there will be at least some of the usual attacks on the authority of municipalities, especially Austin. But Austin is getting ready. City council approved a broad and long agenda at its September 17 meeting. The city’s lobbying team, led by intergovernmental relations officer Brie Franco, could have a full plate in January, but the pandemic is making it hard to predict. Nevertheless, the Council had other elements to add to an already full plate.

Among a multitude of other problems, Council ordered the city’s lobbying team to oppose any legislation “that negatively affects the city’s financial ability to act in the best interests of Austin residents or that lowers the rating of AAA bonds. from the city “. These actions could include imposing a more restrictive income cap, lowering the property valuation cap or extending the appraisal cap to non-residential properties.

The agenda also states that the city manager will use the city’s intergovernmental relations team to “oppose legislation that attempts to diminish the city’s ability to govern its residents’ investment in public services. municipal or negatively impacting Austin Energy’s current status, including tariff cases. approved by city council.

In addition, of course, the city team will be on the lookout for legislation which threatens the city’s authority to promote what the city considers to be appropriate land use and zoning regulations, building codes and planning requirements. Board member Leslie Pool, in particular, wanted the team to support “zoning for inclusion”. The legislature banned inclusionary zoning several years ago to prevent Austin and other cities from requiring developers to provide housing to low-income residents in order to obtain specific zoning or permits for them. housing at market price.

The team is also tasked with resisting legislative efforts to ban or restrict the city’s ability to speak and attempt to influence lawmakers on behalf of Austin residents.

The city will support legislation to create higher water conservation standards for plumbing fixtures, irrigation, landscaping practices and sustainable water reuse, in line with its agenda. And speaking of plumbing, in 2019, lawmakers left town at the end of their session without reauthorizing the state council that licenses plumbers. Plumbers were understandably unhappy with this, as it meant anyone unauthorized with a wrench could call themselves a plumber and compete with those who have licenses. Gov. Greg Abbott’s solution was not to call a special session, but to say he had the power to re-authorize the board for two years because Texans are truly recovering from Hurricane Harvey. need licensed plumbers.

Council member Greg Casar told his colleagues he had received numerous calls and emails from plumbers who wanted to ensure their council would be re-authorized when lawmakers return to town in January. This, at least, does not appear controversial, and the item has been added to the agenda.

Council member Alison Alter said she wanted to ensure the legislative agenda included efforts to provide support to victims of sexual assault and ensure that the state auditor’s office completes his audit of the investigation and handling of sexual assault cases in Texas and the clearing of arrears of rape kits. His colleagues agreed.

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