The 82nd Legislative Session will be one of the most challenging in recent memory, according to the City of McAllen.
Gearing up for an impending state budget crunch as well as redistricting, which will determine representation for the region, McAllen has released a draft of its legislative initiatives that show an aggressive agenda being pursued by the city.
“McAllen, like many cities across the state, will robustly defend its revenues and oppose legislation that would erode our authority and control. McAllen will look to be fairly represented in redistricting,” the city said in a statement. “The City will be consistent with the programs of the Texas Municipal League, Texas Border Coalition, and others except when it contradicts with McAllen’s goals.”
McAllen will hold its day in Austin on Feb. 1, and will bring their legislative priorities in tow. Budget and finance is at the top of the list of the city’s initiatives released last week, but as of press time, the city has not clarified which priorities will take precedence over others. The city, meanwhile, is bracing for a state budget deficit that could reach $25 billion.
McAllen will oppose “all unfunded mandates and oppose any alteration to the current franchise fee system,” the city said in their statement. The city will fight any increase of international bridge tolls, and “will work toward a solution that’s best for border merchants and the state’s coffers.”
Among the legislative priorities set out in its report last week, the city will work collaboratively with South Texas College, Workforce Solutions and the Texas Border Coalition to support workforce development and job-specific skills training programs for students and employers. McAllen will continue to support STC’s efforts to award additional four-year technology degrees as allowed by the state.
On transportation issues, the city will look to support an initiative to end the diversion of transportation funds to non-transportation projects; support initiatives that would fund the continued expansion of U.S. Highway 281 north of McAllen; and support changes that would benefit the area transit system funding, and the expansion of Ware Road.
McAllen will also support light rail and other reasonable rail proposals that would benefit the residents of McAllen, the city says.
The city will also support initiatives for more state and federal investigators to be located in the McAllen region and, with local support, will support proposals for southbound checks at international bridges.
McAllen will oppose legislation that would have local law enforcement officers enforce federal immigration laws, taking into account Arizona styled immigration legislation. “Comprehensive immigration reform, especially legislation that would meet employers’ needs and give them access to a legal workforce, would be supported,” according to the city.
“Our area is unique because of our connection with Mexico,” said Eduardo Millet, vice president of business development and governmental affairs for the McAllen Chamber. The Governmental Affairs Council at the Chamber has been holding meetings for months with the city, as well as with stakeholders, to develop a concise list of priorities as the legislative session gets underway next month.
“Maybe people in northern parts of Texas aren’t so familiar with what the linkages are, economically, with the maquilas, families, Mexican visitors and tourism. For them, when they see just data or reports they may not understand what the realities are,” Millet said. “That’s the importance of this. We need to make sure they (legislators) understand because they are be going to make the decisions. It’s better that they have a real perspective of what’s important for us. That’s why it’s so important for people to participate with us.”
The Chamber’s own list of legislative items closely mirrors those put out by the city, even though both entities develop their agenda separately. Both will eventually bring their own legislative issues to the table, and the combine them so the city heads to Austin with a shortlist of priorities ahead of the session, according to Millet.
The Chamber supports a “graduated approach” to the franchise, or margin tax for businesses that have sales less than $1 million.
A franchise tax essentially amounts to a tax paid by businesses on a percentage of their gross profit. While previous franchise tax was a levy on net income or capital, the current margin tax is calculated on a certain taxable amount, meaning retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers pay .5 percent of their gross revenues after deducting costs of goods sold.
The Chamber supports authorizing any businesses losses on the franchise tax to be carried forward for up to 10 years. It also endorses a rebate to taxpayers as a result of any excess revenue collected from the tax.
“These are real issues that we are going to push,” Millet said. “From here, we start narrowing down (until) we arrive at the ones we consider most important. We are using a survey to get more information from our community because we are going to represent McAllen and the business community.
“In that survey we have all those issues to have more information about what people believe is more important,” Millet said.