Candidate Responses Oct 2018

Questions were sent to candidates in races for State Senate Districts 9 and 10, and State Representative Districts 92 and 93.  The responses we have received to date are posted . . .

State Senate District 9

Kelly Hancock (R), Incumbent – View PDF of Responses

  1. What is your opinion/position on lowering the cap on Texas’ Rainy Day Fund?

The Economic Stabilization Fund, or Rainy Day Fund, is the state’s emergency savings account, which means it should never be used to address ongoing expenses.  Currently, the ESF cap is set at 10% of the previous biennium’s general revenue income. In my view, the bond market and financial institutions are best-suited to determine the limits on the fund, not politicians.

  1. What is your opinion/position on tax rates for local governments and the rollback rate?

When you run a small business like many of the Chamber’s members do, myself included, you have to watch every dollar. Our government should function the same way, and that’s why I’m leading the fight to tighten the state spending cap and reduce our property tax burden by adjusting the rollback rate. Simply stated, local governments should lower rates when revenues exceed population and inflation growth. They should make it a goal to function efficiently, which some do, rather than promoting bond elections that prevent tax rates from dropping as bonds are paid off and the debt eliminated. Voters deserve to have real control of their local government revenue growth at the ballot box, so rollback rates should be adjusted to the pre-hyperinflation rate of 5% or below. The current 8% rate was set back in the 1970’s when inflation was between three and four times what it is today. It makes no sense to leave it there in the current economy.

  1. Do you support creating a Texas Plan for Medicaid? Why or why not?

Federal block grants should give Texas the flexibility we need to reform Medicaid and create a plan that best addresses the unique needs of our state.

  1. What percentage of the M&O funding should the State provide to school districts? Please explain your opinion.

Public education funding is the #1 priority in the current Texas budget, at 52% of all state spending, so it’s hard to overstate the importance of fixing our complex and antiquated school finance system. The Legislature established the Texas Commission on Public School Finance last year to do just that. The Commission’s interim report will be released soon, and I look forward to seeing what they recommend after a year of diligent work on the issue. Of course, appraisal reform and relief from skyrocketing property taxes is a critical part of this conversation. It’s irresponsible to tie state spending to local school district spending or establish a set percentage without any controls over local spending growth. Texas has seen property values significantly outgrow the rate of inflation, but local tax rates haven’t adjusted down, so the result is an enormous strain on property owners that must be addressed.

  1. What is your opinion/position on using State funding for universal pre-K?

Education dollars are in high demand and should be put to use where they can best serve the local community. In the state budget, the Legislature has prioritized high-quality pre-kindergarten for the students who need it most. There is a thriving private pre-k education market that many Texas families choose to take advantage of, so I don’t believe we need a government takeover of this private marketplace.

  1. What do you think about economic development incentives/tools for cities to attract businesses/employees?

The Texas economy is seeing good, consistent growth. We’ve added more than 350,000 new jobs in the past year alone! In fact, if Texas were its own country, we’d have the 10th largest economy in the world. In my view, the first thing any level of government should do is stay out the way of private industry and foster an environment for continued growth. Low, responsible regulation is one of the best economic incentives out there in a competitive development market like Texas. If the incentives involve tax dollars or abatements for a particular business, the possible impact to other businesses in the same market needs to be considered. Economic development incentives are important, but it’s not government’s job to pick winners and losers in private industry.

Gwenn Burud (D) View PDF of Responses

  1. What is your opinion/position on lowering the cap on Texas’ Rainy Day Fund?

With yet another budget shortfall on the horizon, I would support a vote lowering the cap in order to access monies in the rainy day fund.

The fund should be used to help provide additional funding for education in Texas in two areas: general funding of our schools has declined due to an accelerated rate of population growth that has left our schools underfunded at the state level. Secondly, the State has not adequately funded special education for years, and those services need to be restored immediately.

Overall, I would support the use of the Rainy Day fund to prevent budget cuts like those in 2011 so that we do not put an entire generation of our students behind due to a desire to pass tax cuts to corporations.

  1. What is your opinion/position on tax rates for local governments and the rollback rate?

Local governments are in the best position to determine what tax rates are acceptable to their communities. The Texas Republican leadership cannot continue to beat up on local entities for raising taxes when they are passing out tax cuts to corporations in order to gain political advantage. If local taxes are high, it is because the State has neglected its duty to adequately fund the services it should be providing. Focusing on the rollback rate is a tactic used by the current legislature to not take responsibility for adequately funding State services. Cities are being impacted by population growth and

the impact that has on the services they provide. If city leadership is doing a poor job of spending taxpayer money, the local elections should correct those issues rather than overreach from the Texas legislature.

  1. Do you support creating a Texas Plan for Medicaid? Why or why not?

I would propose legislation that the governor be forced to accept the Medicaid expansion package so that Texans can begin to reap the rewards of their tax dollars and get access to the care they have been denied because of partisan politics. The Medicaid expansion would make the biggest difference to low-income adults with chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma. Accepting the Medicaid expansion would also help bring more psychiatrists to Texas – we are currently 5,000 short to meet the existing need of Texans.

  1. What percentage of the M&O funding should the State provide to school districts? Please explain your opinion.

The method of funding our education is broken and needs to be addressed. The legislation passed in 2006 has left school districts grasping for copper pennies in an attempt to deal with rising population, leaving local taxpayers with limited returns on their investment. The continued diversion of funding away from public schools to the charter system takes tax dollars from public institutions and funnels it directly to private corporations. Taxes for schools should only be used for funding schools, not for lining

campaign coffers and private business pockets. The impact on local businesses alone is ridiculous – why should one class of businesses be given direct tax funding that comes from the hard work of all other businesses in the area? Fixing the school funding formula and reducing state funding of charter schools would eliminate the wasteful spending at the State level and allow school districts to adequately fund the education of our students.

  1. What is your opinion/position on using State funding for universal pre-K?

I support universal full day Pre-K! With Governor Abbott’s support of State funding for universal Pre-k, you would think there would be bipartisan support of this program. Instead, the legislature eliminated a 118 million dollar grant for districts meeting high pre-k standards. This made it challenging for many districts to provide essential pre-k services, that would allow these students to be kindergarten ready.

Currently, the state funds half-day pre-k for those considered high need, including the category of economically disadvantaged. However, there are many families who fall into the gap of not qualifying based on financial need, yet struggle with cost of private programs. Universal Pre-K would close this gap.

  1. What do you think about economic development incentives/tools for cities to attract businesses/employees?

I have always believed that one of the great benefits of having local government is that they are well attuned to the needs of their communities. If cities are in an economic position to afford tax breaks to attract new employers, and the population supports the investment, it seems logical to allow cities to use such incentives. It can be challenging to balance the short-term discomfort of bringing in a larger company with the long term growth goals of a community. I hope that all State legislators keep in mind that local politicians have a difficult job and to work with them instead of against them to benefit our citizens.

State Senate District 10

Konni Burton (R), Incumbent – View PDF of Responses

  1. What is your opinion/position on lowering the cap on Texas’ Rainy Day Fund?

Our state’s economic stabilization fund is vital to the sustainability of our state budget and to our state’s credit rating. Given this importance, I do not support reducing the amount that can be placed in the Rainy Day Fund.

  1. What is your opinion/position on tax rates for local governments and the rollback rate?

Each session I have been in the legislature I have supported property tax relief and reform measures to reduce the rollback rate and make rollback elections automatic.

In the 85th Regular and Special Sessions, I supported measures that would have lowered the rollback rate to 4%. While these measures did not pass, I will continue to advocate for taxpayers by supporting these reforms next session.

  1. Do you support creating a Texas Plan for Medicaid? Why or why not?

Medicaid is a system that is briskly outpacing the state’s ability to fund it. I support a federal “block granting” of Texas’ federal Medicaid funds so that we can craft a program that is best for our state, however, I am opposed to expansion of Medicaid to higher income thresholds.

  1. What percentage of the M&O funding should the State provide to school districts? Please explain your opinion.

The real question to me is: how is the current state level failing to meet the state’s

constitutional duty? I am in agreement with many who claim the system is flawed, but also am skeptical of claims that more money is always the answer, because it is not.

  1. What is your opinion/position on using State funding for universal pre-K?

I opposed the initial universal Pre-K for school districts and do not support state funding for Pre-K. There are several reasons for this.

First, I find it not the least bit ironic that every session the legislature is told that public education is “underfunded” by the state, but then, school districts are asking for the state’s authority and additional funding to add a completely new grade level. Prudence and logic would dictate that if schools are “underfunded” now with their current grades K-12 mandate, what good does it do seeking to add another?

Second, I am hesitant to expand a government system in light of the large private presence in the Pre-kindergarten sphere. Private Pre-K programs are abundant and there is not a compelling need for the state to provide this service.

Lastly, state involvement in this area of education will drive-out the private sector and increase dependence on government. For these reasons, I cannot support expansion of Pre-K.

  1. What do you think about economic development incentives/tools for cities to attract businesses/employees?

I describe incentives for what they are: corporate welfare. It is unconscionable to tax one corporation simply to fund its competition through incentives. I am strongly opposed to these programs and will oppose any effort to reauthorize 312 and 313 abatements. I believe that true and lasting economic development is what attracts entrepreneurs. This happens when we fund the core functions of state.

Beverly Powell (D) – View PDF of Responses

  1. What is your opinion/position on lowering the cap on Texas’ Rainy Day Fund?

I believe in sound fiscal policy that includes reserves such as the Rainy Day Fund for use in responsible, limited one time expenditures and for use in times of crisis. I do not believe the state should be put in a position to depended on reserves to balance a budget or make ongoing expenses. With our Rainy Day Fund at record levels and a refusal to consider the Fund for Hurricane Harvey, I believe it’s time for an honest conversation about long-term priorities associated with the Fund.

  1. What is your opinion/position on tax rates for local governments and the rollback rate?

I believe the best way to approach rising property taxes on Texas families is to address the broken school finance formula currently facing our state, and grow local tax bases through economic development programs, career training programs and public-private partnerships. I believe removing the petition requirement and forcing automatic rollback elections will minimally reduce property taxes and divert time from the driver of skyrocketing property tax rates: state funding cuts to public education.

  1. Do you support creating a Texas Plan for Medicaid? Why or why not?

Healthy Texans are productive Texans. I know that access to quality and affordable health care will keep our state economy strong and is crucial to our quality of life in North Texas. Texas-focused solutions to improve health care options for all Texas families while encouraging job growth within the health industry should never be out of reach.

I agree with members of both parties in states around the nation which have taken the responsible step to expand Medicaid. This alone will bring billions of dollars back to Texas and provide healthcare for around 100,000 people in Tarrant County hundreds of thousands more around the metroplex. By providing greater access to healthcare, we can limit the need for expensive emergency costs passed on to the taxpayer.

Additionally, I believe that the state can work with communities across the Texas to promote healthy living and other strategies which, in the long run, will reduce health costs and promote healthy living.

  1. What percentage of the M&O funding should the State provide to school districts? Please explain your opinion.

I believe the state should work to return to funding around 50% of public education. In order to do this we must fix the broken school finance system. The legislature must commit to increasing the state share of public education funding but we also must update formulas. I believe that HB21, a school finance reform bill from last session, was a good start at modernizing our state formulas and I was disappointed that school vouchers were added to the bill. We must bring together a coalition to modernize formulas and increase funding levels—it’s the only way to fix funding inequities and decrease the property tax burden in Texas families as a result of state’s decreasing contributions to school finance.

  1. What is your opinion/position on using State funding for universal pre-K?

Studies have made clear that full day pre-K has lasting long term benefits for students. I strongly support the state offering full day pre-K and kindergarten. I disagree the philosophy that pre-K does not achieve long term results and believe our state should invest in the education of our children as early as possible. Furthermore, I believe we need to reform the criteria for the pre-K program passed in 2015 to ensure districts have the resources they need to provide high quality pre-k to students in addition to increasing funding so more schools districts can participate in full day pre- k.

  1. What do you think about economic development incentives/tools for cities to attract businesses/employees?

Tarrant County businesses and families see the benefits of strategic economic development every single day. In Arlington, strategic economic development has helped attract the Super Bowl and College Football National Championship. In the northern part of Tarrant County, bipartisan strategic economic development attracted the Facebook data center. The success of strategic economic development programs has helped create good jobs in Tarrant County, meaning families that live in SD10 have new opportunities because of the strategic thinking of businesses and public officials. We must fight back against attempts to dismantle these programs and instead look at ways to create new investment opportunities that will attract great businesses to Texas.

House District 92

Steve Riddell (D) View PDF of Responses

  1. What is your opinion/position on lowering the cap on Texas’ Rainy Day Fund?

Funds haven’t been appropriated from the Economic Stabilization Fund in over three years, despite quite a few shortfalls in the state budget since then, and it’s currently at its largest size ever, over $10 billion. I’ve frequently heard it said that the ESF is for “emergencies only,” but that’s not how it’s described on the Comptroller’s website. It’s specifically for covering expenses in the event of downturns in oil and gas tax revenues. Despite very low oil prices in 2015-2017, and their subsequent revenue shortfalls, the funds were not used – the “emergencies only” rationale was frequently cited – but many cuts were made in those years to valuable programs that Texans needed. I would support lowering the cap to ensure the funds are being used – there’s little benefit to holding on to them.

  1. What is your opinion/position on tax rates for local governments and the rollback rate?

It seems disingenuous to me that the State of Texas has been shirking its constitutionally-mandated duty to fund public education, thus causing local property taxes to rise to make up for the shortfall, and when citizens complain, rather than owning their responsibility and funding public education, they propose laws to prevent local governments from providing adequate funding. The current rollback rate at 8% is sufficient. Lowering it to 5% would only incur additional costs for municipalities without addressing the root of the problem.

  1. Do you support creating a Texas Plan for Medicaid? Why or why not?

I do. Texas’ refusal of the federal Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act is costing taxpayers $6 billion per year for indigent care in emergency rooms that would otherwise have been covered. I have yet to hear a rational argument against accepting the expansion.

  1. What percentage of the M&O funding should the State provide to school districts? Please explain your opinion.

The State should provide 50% of the M&O funding – as it used to. Most Texans agree – a TEGAC poll this year showed approval at 71% for the State carrying more of the cost in order to keep a natural lid on property taxes paid by homeowners. There are means of generating this revenue without increasing taxes on anyone, just by closing loopholes in the current state tax code that are being exploited by large corporations. In the current environment, property owners are paying more in property taxes, and we’re getting less, while Texas overal is 36th among the fifty states in per-student funding for public education. We’re shorting Texas’ future.

  1. What is your opinion/position on using State funding for universal pre-K?

I’m not in favor of “universal” pre-K, but I am in favor of targeting all-day pre-K in the school districts that need it the most, for the students that need it the most. Economically disadvantaged students and English language learners need all-day pre-K more than their peers. I’d favor funding these programs at school districts that have high percentages of these students. Universal is a great idea, but it’s expensive and not everyone needs it. A targeted program would save the State money while still generating the benefits of pre-K programs.

  1. What do you think about economic development incentives/tools for cities to attract businesses/employees?

I’m generally in favor of them, but I’d like to see a larger proportion of the State’s Development Fund go to small businesses with a proven track record and a great business plan in the form of low interest loans. It is necessary, given the competitive nature of business development, for cities to offer some form of incentive, but I’d prefer to avoid a “race to the bottom” scenario by limiting the amounts of tax abatements. In addition, I’d like to see more analysis done by cities and the State to demonstrate the results of these abatements when performed, and I’d like to see those results published. Are abatements working? Are the resulting sales tax revenues from increased economic activity offsetting the abatements that were granted? I believe more transparency should be required.

House District 93

Nancy Bean (D) – View PDF of Responses

  1. What is your opinion/position on lowering the cap on Texas’ Rainy Day Fund?

The cap on Texas’ Rainy Day Fund could safely be lowered to 7%. However, the Rainy Day Fund should be systematically utilized for rebuilding aging physical infrastructure and lagging social infrastructure. Texans are not overtaxed so much as underserved.

  1. What is your opinion/position on tax rates for local governments and the rollback rate?

The State Legislature should not engage in preemption of local decision-making.

  1. Do you support creating a Texas Plan for Medicaid? Why or why not?

I support expanding Medicare temporarily while we expand and improve Medicare to become universal.

  1. What percentage of the M&O funding should the State provide to school districts? Please explain your opinion.

The state should provide at least 51% of funds. Funding public education is one of the constitutionally mandated jobs of the Legislature and one which they are failing. The funding formulas and budget should be transparent and equitable, ensuring that Texas children in all zip codes are provided with a quality public education.

  1. What is your opinion/position on using State funding for universal pre-K?

I support state funded universal quality pre-K.

  1. What do you think about economic development incentives/tools for cities to attract businesses/employees?

Quality public education, educated workforce, and quality of life issues including affordable housing, are the most important incentives for business/employees.