Cities to watch for unfunded mandates in 2013 session

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Dec. 29, 2012 at 6:29 a.m.
Updated Dec. 30, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.

Just weeks before the 83rd Legislative session begins, Texas' lawmakers have filed more than 450 bills.

While the pre-filed bills vary from cellphone bans to allowing gambling, Texas cities and counties are keeping a close watch over what could impact small government.

Victoria Director of Intergovernmental Relations Jerry James said the influx of new senators and representatives will have an impact on the types of bills filed.

"Some have filed bills, but a lot haven't even gotten their offices together," James said.

He is watching House Bill 227, filed by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, which aims to pull $1 billion from the state's rainy day fund to finance water infrastructure projects.

While it is a start to creating a seed money fund, he said the state still needs long-term funding options.

With that, he said he is watching for a bill that would tax water bottles or repeal the exemption on municipal water sales, which would impact Victoria.

"This session is going to be very complicated," he said.

Victoria City Councilman Tom Halepaska said his concern with this legislative session is unfunded mandates and responsibilities without funding.

"The prevailing feeling for cities is that many times the state government wishes to push onto the counties and the cities things that they had previously taken care of," Halepaska said. "They've done that in the past. It wouldn't be surprising that they'd try to do some more of that."

The Texas Municipal League took a strong stance against a threat to municipal bonds, which the organization says are under threat by federal tax reform.

Because interest investors earn on municipal bonds is tax-free, cities pay lower interest rates to finance projects like street construction, water and sewer lines and other public works projects.

If the exemption is eliminated or reduced, the cost of nearly all public construction projects will increase for cities, counties, school districts and states, the league reports.

Port Lavaca City Manager Bob Turner said the city was concerned with a 2011 bill affecting eminent domain authority.

If a city or county does not file a form with the comptroller by Dec. 31 identifying its statutory eminent domain authority, that specific government would lose its ability to seize property for projects such as road construction.

Turner said the Texas Municipal League filed the report on behalf of all Texas cities, and Port Lavaca filed the proper paperwork as a precaution.

Edna City Manager Kenneth Knight said there are no proposed bills on the city's radar.

"Nothing has raised any red flags for us - or positive flags, for that matter," he said.

He hopes to attend the Texas Municipal League meeting in early 2013 to learn more about proposed laws that could impact Edna.

"You're always concerned with whether or not there's going to be grant programs for money, or any kind of changes on how the state will do pass-through money from the Fed," Knight said.

Economic development issues are always major, he said.

Other issues that could impact cities are whether the state tries to capture some city revenue, Knight said.

"That's always something we look out for to make sure we can protect our revenue sources and our ability to do economic development," he said.

Other legislative preview stories:

Cities to watch for unfunded mandates in 2013 session

Entertainment, downtown groups expect little change in legislative session

Officials say 2-1-1 help line funding vital

Texas Senate to consider law that bans texting and driving

Proposed bill could shake up criminal court procedure



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