The sequel to the 83rd legislature, in the form of a special session, starts this week in Austin to address unfinished business. And much like the first session ended, there were almost certainly be drama.
First Governor Greg Abbott wants the bill to continue operations of the Texas Medical Board which licenses and regulates our doctors, nurses and other medical professions. If and when that gets done the governor has outlined 19 other issues he wants addressed. The most high profile of those issues is the so-called bathroom bill to require people to use the bathroom associated with their birth gender. The business community is rallying against the bill for economic reasons. To proceed discriminatory nature of the legislation could result in Texas losing major sporting and other professional events as North Carolina did before they reversed their policy. State Tourism officials have projected the economic impact in the billions of dollars.
The technology industry which has made major investments in Texas in recent years, thinks they’ll have a harder time recruiting the diverse and skilled workforce they need. It’s an issue that’s gotten much too much attention. But speaking of the skilled workforce. The legislature recently authorized using the skills development fund to help companies expanding in Texas or relocating from another state if they offer high skilled jobs. The fund has about $48 million dollars available. And remember, the Texas Enterprise Fund, which is the governor’s deal closing fund for major job projects, will have about 90 million dollars to spend over the next two years.
There is some good news. Just this week, the governor announced a $6 million dollar deal with Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, to develop a technology hub around the Dell Medical School campus in Austin. Merck expected to create 600 high wage jobs. So, while short of the $200 million dollars the business community wanted, Texas hasn’t completely disarmed when it comes to business recruitment.
And finally, Governor Abbott has said that addressing rising property taxes is the quote, number one issue of the special session. The governor fears that rising valuations are driving people out of their homes, taxing people out of their homes and wants to rein them in. These big increases can also hamper business expansion particularly in the capital intensive industries. The rub is that property taxes, which are taxed locally, pay for core community services like public schools, roads, emergency services, police and fire protection. And naturally, rising populations around the state put a strain on those services. It’s a difficult issue with large and powerful competing interests. Given the political tension in Austin right now, whether the legislature even gets to that issue, among the 20, is far from clear.
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Craig Casselberry is founder and president of Quorum Public Affairs, Inc. and a 20-year veteran of Texas politics. As president of Quorum Public Affairs, Casselberry has managed more than 100 strategic communications projects, issue coalitions, and federal, state and local public policy campaigns for corporate clients of all sizes. You can learn more about Craig HERE.