House leaders deny reports of imminent tax cut deal with Senate

Texas House leaders denied word that the House and Senate are close to a tax cut deal Wednesday that would involve scrapping the House’s proposal for a reduction in the sales tax rate.

“There is no deal to talk about,” said state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the House’s chief tax writer, before walking into a meeting with the House’s chief budget writer and other GOP leaders.

“If the Senate is talking about a deal we’re probably that much further away from having a deal,” the Angleton Republican added.

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who is closely aligned with House Speaker Joe Straus, also said “We’re not going to take anything off the table at this point,” while noting a sales tax cut is “not the No. 1 priority.”

Word of an impending tax cut deal was first detailed in a Houston Chronicle report Wednesday.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, one of five senators Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked to informally negotiate tax cuts with the House, also said “Everything remains on the table” and suggested a tax cut deal is not near.

“Right now, there are many cooks as chefs in the kitchen,” he said. “If a deal comes, it will have a thousand fathers and mothers.”

“Like I said, you’ll know when there is a real deal,” he said when asked if one was near.

How to cut taxes has emerged as the biggest point of disagreement between the two chambers this legislative session and has yet to ease with less than three weeks to go in the regular legislative session. Many observers believe the impasse could result in a special session because tax cuts will have to be worked out before lawmakers can finalize a state budget, which is the only piece of legislation they are required to pass when they meet every two years.

Geren said his No. 1 priority is to “pass a budget and go home.”

Reporter Chuck Lindell contributed to this report

 

Rep. Dennis Bonnen, surrounded by other representatives, announces his plan for a sales tax cut at the Capitol on Wednesday April 8, 2015.  JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, surrounded by other House lawmakers, announces his plan for a sales tax cut at an April 8 Capitol news conference.

 

Key Texas House lawmaker wants 25 percent business tax cut

Exposing yet another rift in the Texas House and Senate’s tax cut plans, the House’s lead tax policy writer said in a videotaped interview that emerged Friday that he wants to cut the business franchise tax rate by 25 percent across-the-board.

The Senate has proposed a 15 percent rate reduction and also expanding the exemption to the tax to include 61,000 smaller businesses.

“I compliment the Senate,” state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said in an interview taped last Thursday, the day after the Senate overwhelmingly passed a tax cut package that also reduces homeowner property taxes by more than $2 billion.

“We believe we can do a little bit better than that and cut it 25 percent,” Bonnen continued. “That’s the proposal we’re going to present in the Texas House.”

The chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee is expected to unveil a tax cut package next week that he has said will also include an across-the-board cut to the sales tax rate. He and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, traded jabs in televised interviews this week over the differences in their proposed tax cuts plans.

The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation praised Bonnen’s plan in a statement released Friday.

“While we are in favor of putting the margin tax on a path to elimination for the biggest economic effect, this potential 25 percent cut in both rates is a huge step in the right direction,” said Talmadge Heflin, director of the foundation’s Center for Fiscal Policy Director. The foundation also has promoted replacing the franchise tax with a much higher sales tax, a departure from Bonnen’s proposal.

 

Otto filing bill to fund retired teacher health care

Names
House Appropriations Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton.

Updated 6:35 p.m.:

The Texas House’s lead budget writer filed legislation Monday that would fully fund a state health care plan covering more than 250,000 retired teachers and their dependents.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton, said late last month the lower chamber wants to pick up the entire $768 million tab for TRS-Care over the 2016-17 biennium. Texas Senate leaders have indicated they will do the same.

The money will be included in House Bill 2, Otto said Monday at a committee meeting.

Securing that sum was one of the main goals of teacher groups this session, although they have called it just a first step. The Legislature also needs to overhaul the plan structure to make it financially sustainable for the long-term, those groups have said.

Teacher Retirement System Executive Director Brian Guthrie brought the same message to the House Pensions Committee Monday, where he laid out seven options for shoring up the fund.

“I would argue that we need to make systemic changes to the this program now in order to provide for the longer-term sustainability and we may not get this in one session, but whatever we can do to start down that path — if you put it off, the hole is just getting bigger.”

On Monday, Otto also said that discussions still are ongoing about how exactly to use the additional $2.2 billion the House has allocated for schools in its starting point budget. He also assured the panel that the money will definitely be spent on public education.

The sum, consisting entirely of local property tax revenue, is in addition to the $2.3 billion needed to fund enrollment growth over the 2016-17 biennium — about 85,000 new students a year.

The $2.2 billion has been “earmarked for improving equity and reducing recapture in our public schools,” state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, the House’s lead education budget writer, reminded the committee.

Otto indicated as much earlier in the legislation session, which began Jan. 13.

“I expect in the not too distant future you will be seeing what the anticipated use of this $2.2 billion” is, Otto said.

“It is the chair’s intent that that $2.2 (billion) go to public education,” he continued. “It is not going to be pulled back off the table regardless of what we do.”

Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, called the move “a very strong statement” and said she is “very appreciative.”

However, the former Eanes school district trustee emphasized that the $2.2 billion, as well as the nearly equivalent sum covering enrollment growth, is local — not state — money.

“I point that out because I think we need to just keep in mind the fact that we are still relying a lot on local property taxes to cover the cost of public education and at least in this case the chairman is putting it to public education rather than spending it on something else which is a huge step in the right direction,” she said, referring to the Texas Senate’s plan to return that money to local taxpayers in the form of property tax cuts. “One of the most significant things we could do to help our property taxpayers is to find state revenue sources that would decrease the amount that we’re relying on from the local property taxpayers.”

In response Otto said: “To my knowledge this is the first time since I’ve been here that we have fully restored all of the appraisal increase money back to public ed, so I think it is a good first step.”

During the meeting Monday, Ashby also announced that his Appropriations subcommittee had heard testimony from every higher education institution and had attempted to address their “top two priorities,” which he said were “increasing funding formulas as well as tuition revenue bonds.”

The subcommittee “added approximately $224 million to increase all the formulas including a 93 percent hold harmless of our community colleges,” he said. “For tuition revenue bonds we included $250 million for debt service contingent on legislation authorizing the bonds.”

He said the subcommittee also added about $50 million for financial aid programs, with the bulk of that going to the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant program. That is on top of the $41.3 million the House already allocated for TEOG and TEXAS Grants in its base budget, he noted.

Howard also praised the funding formula increase, but noted it is nowhere close to what would be needed to restore deep cuts made to higher education institutions in 2011. She said that would take $1.42 billion.

 

Dan Patrick reveals how he wants to pay for tax cuts

Texas’ Republican leaders have called for multibillion dollar cuts to business and property taxes but so far have remained mum on what mechanisms they’d prefer lawmakers use to get there.

On Wednesday, though, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick indicated he’d like to pay for the tax cuts by boosting sale tax collections while slowly weaning the state off its reliance on property tax revenue.

“The revenues we get at the state level are primarily sales tax,” the Houston Republican said Wednesday in a speech at the Texas Association of Business’ annual conference. “What we’ve done is a gradual transition from bringing more people in to help pay for what a handful of people – businesses and property owners – have been paying.”

Asked what, if any, legislation has been filed on that front that Patrick might get behind, his spokesman mentioned two “loosely related” bills filed by state Sen. Brandon Creighton.

The Conroe Republican’s SB 186 would require the state comptroller to “conduct a comprehensive study” analyzing “the feasibility of implementing alternative methods” to the state’s business franchise tax and what alternative ways the state could raise sufficient funds to “address the needs of this state.”

Among those, the study would have to look at: imposing a value-added tax, eliminating exemptions from the sales and use tax and increasing the rate of the sales and use tax.

SB 331 would require the comptroller to issue rebates to businesses that pay the franchise tax if there is unspent general revenue leftover from the previous two-year budget cycle.

The first-draft Senate budget Patrick unveiled last month calls for $3 billion in property tax cuts and $1 billion in business franchise tax cuts. The House’s budget plan, released before the Senate’s, did not account for tax cuts although officials have said they will be added later.

Asked Wednesday what the House has in mind for tax cuts, House Speaker Joe Straus said the lower chamber hasn’t “come to a conclusion yet.”

“We left room in our base budget for tax cuts but didn’t specify what they would be,” he told reporters after his own speech to the business association. “Again, that’s what the session’s for. In the House, we don’t just say: Here it is. Vote on it. This is what the speaker wants. We have ideas. We have a lot of leaders and a thorough discussion.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015

 

 

Howard not sure what Abbott meant in name dropping her

State Rep. Donna Howard had no idea Gov. Greg Abbott was going to name drop her in his first ever State of the State speech Tuesday.

The newly-minted Republican governor called on several lawmakers by name in his 45-minute address, including the outspoken Austin Democrat when he noted that his budget proposal “includes an appropriation that makes school districts whole for any tax revenue they may lose” under the $4.2 billion in tax cuts it also calls for, including $2.2 billion to school property taxes.

Howard, who said she had no prior discussion with Abbott on the topic, noted that it was not entirely clear — in either Abbott’s remarks or his budget proposal unveiled Tuesday — whether he thinks the state should let local school districts keep property tax revenue growth (projected at about $4.5 billion for 2016-17 biennium) or if he was saying simply that the state should make up for any of that revenue it takes away, although she suspects the latter.

“If he is saying he wants it to go back into education, then I’m all for that,” said Howard, who serves on a budget subcommittee handling public education funding.

Howard, a former Eanes school district board member, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, have harped on the fact that as local property tax collections soar, the amount the state must pay into public education diminishes. House and Senate first-draft budgets handle the issue differently with the House spending plan letting school districts keep a lot of that and the Senate instead returning it to taxpayers in the form of property tax cuts. As a result, the House spends about $2 billion more on public schools, although it hasn’t specified how to use that sum.

“I do appreciate the fact that he publicly acknowledged and recognized that property value increases are currently just offsetting what the state owes and that the state has been taking those funds … and using them in whatever way the state chooses to and not necessarily using it for public education,” Howard told the American-Statesman. “We need to correct that.”

After offering his assurance to Howard, Abbott immediately said: “But the property tax reduction must be lasting. We cannot allow it to evaporate with rising property valuations.” That is largely what happened after state lawmakers cut school property taxes in 2006 by $7 billion, which meant most property owners did not really notice it although tax bills likely would be much higher now if not for it.

The business franchise tax expansion passed to make up for that massive cut also has never fully made up for the lost revenue.

Howard said she has trouble imagining how things could go any differently this time around, although she conceded the devil is in the details, which are often sparse in Abbott’s proposed two-year spending plan.

On Tuesday, Abbott “talked about holding the schools harmless,” Howard said. “That’s exactly what we said then when we did the property tax swap and we did not uphold our end of the bargain then. I don’t know why I believe we would be holding up our end of the bargain with a new proposition like this.”

“The way I would address it is: Let’s go ahead and put more state money in and really hold them harmless so we’re really not taking as much from the local property owners,” she said.

 

 

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin

Cost of waiving tuition for veterans could grow to $2 billion

Senate budget writers on Thursday gawked at the exponential cost projections of a state law that waives tuition for veterans and their families at any of the state’s public higher education institutions.

The Texas Veterans Commission estimates the annual price tag of the Hazlewood Act could eventually grow to $2 billion if veterans start moving to the state to take advantage of the law after a federal judge last month struck down one of its provisions that says veterans and their families may receive free tuition as long as they enlisted while living in the state.

“We’ve created a monster,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

“This is something we really, really, really need to figure out how we’re going to address this,” said state Sen. Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the committee.

Earlier this week, the state Attorney General’s office told the budget-writing panel it would appeal the recent Hazlewood ruling.

According to Nelson’s office, $30 million of the nearly $33 million funding increase to the veterans commissions in the Senate’s proposed  budget is to reimburse higher education institutions for a share of the “Hazlewood’s Exemption Legacy Program,” which allows veterans to waive their tuition benefits so their children may take advantage of them.

That is a fraction of the total price tag, however. Hazlewood cost the state’s public higher education institutions $169 million last year to cover nearly 40,000 students, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, blamed the situation on the federal government, which he suggested should be paying for this kind of program.

“We’re finding ourselves potentially with a huge liability in trying to do right thing while the federal government just makes it more difficult,” he said.

 

Senate budget writers bemoan escalating state debt

Senate budget writers on Wednesday bemoaned escalating state and local debt, although who’s to blame and how big of a deal it really is emerged as points of contention during the in-depth discussion.

The Senate Finance Committee kicked off its third budget hearing of the 140-day legislative session with a debt overview presentation from the Legislative Budget Board showing state debt as of last August was at $44.3 billion and local debt was at $205.3 billion. The state portion has more than doubled in the past decade, LBB Assistant Director John McGeady told committee members.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Republican from Tyler who often harps on growing debt, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, placed blame on their fellow state lawmakers who they said have either transferred tough decisions onto bonds or local governments.

“It’s interesting to me that (in) the last 10 years we had all these people out there thumping their chest how we haven’t raised taxes in the state of Texas,” said Eltife, who profusely thanked Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson for inciting what he described as an unprecedented discussion about debt.

“No, we haven’t raised taxes,” he continued. “We’ve doubled the state’s debt in the last 10 years,” which is “a tax on a future generation.”

Because of that, the assertion that the state has balanced its budget in the last decades is “just false,” Eltife said. “We haven’t. We’ve done it on the backs of bonds. And it’s not the conservative way to fund state government.”

“If you don’t have the money, you raise taxes to pay for it,” he said. “If you don’t want to raise taxes, don’t spend the money. But don’t go into debt.”

Watson had a similar message, but contended that state lawmakers in their refusal to raise taxes and increase state spending amid explosive population growth have shifted the burden onto local governments, particularly for things like transportation.

When cities or counties raise taxes to pay for roads, Watson said, “We sit in judgment of that, I think, sometimes in an inappropriate way.”

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, somewhat tempered the discussion when he asked the LBB to confirm that the fastest growing type of state debt is “self-supporting,” meaning there is revenue available to pay it off and that “taxpayers aren’t on the hook” for it.

That didn’t much resonate with newly-minted state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Republican from Brenham, who later asked the LBB to confirm where Texas ranks in terms of accrued local debt per capita among the 10 largest states.

“I’d like to have that confirmed … just to put in perspective where we are and where we may be heading with California falling off the fiscal cliff as a warning here.”

The answer? Second, behind New York. And ahead of California, which ranks third.

“Oh dear,” Nelson responded.

The Flower Mound Republican and state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, who is on the short list to chair the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, have filed joint resolutions that — if approved by lawmakers and then Texas voters — would divert any excess money in the state’s rainy day fund into an account dedicated to pay off state debt.

“Our economy is producing more revenue than we can spend,” Nelson said in a statement sent out before the hearing. “We need to send part of it back to taxpayers, and reduce the obligations we are placing on future generations of Texans.  They are not mutually exclusive — we can do both.”

Glimmers of bipartisan support have also have emerged this week during budget hearings for another joint resolution authored by Eltife and state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, that would ban any spending to pay down state debt from counting toward the state’s constitutional spending cap. That also would require voter approval since it would amend the state constitution.

Sens. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin, listen to testimony during a Senate Finance Committee hearing this week
Sens. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin, listen to testimony during a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday

 

 

Hegar ‘shocked and utterly embarrassed’ about condition of facilities

Update 3:50 p.m. on Feb. 4:

A day after Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar told Senate budget writers he was “shocked and utterly embarrassed” about the condition of his 20-plus field offices, bipartisan consensus on the Senate Finance Committee emerged even stronger Wednesday around the need to repair beleaguered state facilities — particularly the schools for the deaf and blind.

“It’s horrible, horrible conditions,” said Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, of a report detailing unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the school for the deaf.

“When you look at the reports, they’ve got rodents, bats, bed bugs … electrical failure, mechanical system failure, plumbing and sewer system failure and these are young people we are responsible for,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.  “We’re creating misery for people that we ought to be taking care of.”

The issue re-emerged as the budget-writing panel heard from the Texas Facilities Commission, which told the committee that the state’s “deferred maintenance” needs have grown to almost $1 billion.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, noted that sum was just $400 million in 2006.

“You’ve got to spend the money on these buildings to maintain them,” he said. “It is a waste of taxpayer money to let these buildings (get) in these conditions and continue to accrue deferred maintenance.”

Eltife said the price tag has grown despite past recommendations to craft a 10-year maintenance plan.

“We’ve never done that so now we’re at $1 billion and growing,” he said.

Harvey Hilderbran, a former longtime state lawmaker who now heads the facilities commission, told the committee that the “definition of deferred maintenance is the absence of maintenance and we ought to be striving for planned maintenance.”

Addressing the issue “would be a wise investment on behalf of the taxpayers to address it but not to mention our hardworking state employees and the conditions that they find themselves working in  — and the visitors, our clients,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, a committee member.

Whitmire, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, noted the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has 108 prisons “and I promise you the roofs, the access, the security concerns, are pretty widespread” because of maintenance issues.

“There are several different issues here that we need to address,” Nelson said later. “And, you know, another one is obviously at what point do you say this is such a mess that money would be better spent to start over.”

Original post:

When Texas’ new chief financial officer appeared before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday to outline his office’s own monetary needs, he reminded upper chamber budget writers that he vowed during his campaign to make the comptroller’s office “a model for all state agencies” in terms of tightfistedness.

However, Comptroller Glenn Hegar — a Republican and former state senator — also said the office needs more money to upgrade its buildings, explaining that he had recently gone on a tour of 28 field offices and had “absolutely been shocked and utterly embarrassed by the condition” of them.

Hegar did not get too specific, but suggested the problems involve “basic sanitation” and gave one example of an office where tissue paper had been stuffed into a hole in the wall.

“I tell my staff I may not may not be a big fan of the Wizard of Oz, but I know what Dorothy felt like: We are not in the Capitol anymore,” he said, drawing a comparison between the field offices and the immaculate, pink granite statehouse. (A spokeswoman for Hegar also said he considers the LBJ Building, where his own office is housed, to be in poor condition).

“We do not need the best” facilities, Hegar continued. “But basic sanitation” is a must.

“Prior comptrollers have never stood up here and said ‘We need to maintain our buildings,'” he said, noting he has heard no complaints from the dutiful state employees who are forced to work in the dilapidated facilities.

Susan Combs, Hegar’s predecessor, did not ask for any additional money to upgrade the field offices, according to the office’s biennial legislative appropriations request submitted last fall.

Lauren Willis, a spokeswoman for the Comptroller’s office, said Hegar has not yet submitted an official request but the office is looking into what might be needed.

“We have not updated basic facilities for quite some time,” Hegar said Tuesday. “I wish that I would have toured those offices quite some time ago.”

His comments launched a discussion among committee members about whether the state should conduct an assessment of all its properties, owned or leased.

Many of them are “deplorable,” said state state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, a committee member.

 

 

State to appeal ruling regarding free tuition for veterans

With Texas’ public universities facing a sizable and escalating price tag, the state attorney general’s office said Tuesday it plans to appeal a recent federal court ruling that struck down a provision in state law that says military veterans — and their families — may receive free tuition as long as they enlisted while living in the state.

Asked for an update on the lawsuit by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson, First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy told the budget-writing panel Tuesday that the state will appeal a ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr.

In his decision, Werlein said the University of Houston could not deny benefits under the Texas Hazlewood Act to plaintiff Keith Harris just because he had enlisted in the Army while living in Georgia.

Last week, Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said the final outcome will “obviously” have an impact on the two-year state budget currently under development.

Hazlewood cost the state’s public universities $169 million last year to cover nearly 40,000 students, according to the Legislative Budget Board. (The state, however, has only picked up about $15 million of the tab each year).

The cost is projected to reach $379.1 million by 2019, thanks mostly to a 2009 amendment to Hazlewood that allows veterans to pass on tuition benefits to their children.

On Tuesday, Roy said “the fact is we don’t know the cost” of the program in the future. He also said the ruling was in “direct conflict” with the aim of Hazlewood.

“The Hazlewood Act was designed to provide two things,” he said. “First, an additional incentive to kids in Texas to join the military after high school. Second, encouragement to return to Texas after service to pursue their education.”

The lawsuit poses an interesting conundrum for the state’s Republican leaders, who are eager to assist veterans but also must weigh the associated cost.

 

 

 

Senators question proposed tax cuts

3:00 p.m. Post has been updated throughout

The Senate Finance Committee’s first real budget hearing of the legislative session kicked off on Monday with Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, suggesting the $4 billion worth of tax cuts proposed last week by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson may not be feasible given all the pressing costs facing the state — including the possible cost of an impending court ruling on school finance.

Eltife, one of 15 members of the budget-writing panel, said he “of course” supports tax cuts but “can’t vote for tax cuts until I know this budget” covers all those needs, including state employee pensions, transportation and water infrastructure.

“It’s hard for me to support removing $4 billion from this state’s revenue stream until we know we can meet the needs of the state,” said Eltife, who asked if state budget staff could prepare projections for how tax cuts and ending a diversion of $1.2 billion worth of road funding would affect state coffers in the long-term.

Nelson, who all but guaranteed tax cuts last week, said “I absolutely agree with that.”

“I’m not going to ask this committee to vote on any tax relief until we know exactly what we’re dealing with,” the Flower Mound Republican said.

She later added: “There are lots of different ideas of providing tax relief and certainly we need to have a very, very good idea of what our needs are before we start paying for our wants.”

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, asked whether that $4 billion amount could shrink or grow and whether the committee would be forced to decide on the two-year budget and tax cuts with one vote. He also suggested there should be a focus on paying down state debt.

“I wanted to earmark $4 billion for tax relief until we have a feel of what we want to do,” Nelson replied, explaining that there is still another $5 billion left to spend before reaching a constitutional spending cap.

“If everybody wants to take the whole $5 billion and put it in tax relief — OK — but you’re not going to have a lot of other things that I think we would choose to do so it’s our decision,” she said.

As for a catch-all vote, Nelson said that “depends on what kind of tax relief we provide.”

“It would appear that we all are going forward with an open mind,” Whitmire later said.

“Yes, yeah. We are blessed to be living in a time where our economy has done very well,” Nelson replied. “We’ve got some extra money that we can, you know, add to some things that we want to do; We can pay down debt, we can do a lot of things but it is going to be determined by this committee and this Senate.  I’m not dug in on almost anything.”

The finance committee is hearing testimony Monday on Article IV, the portion of the state budget that funds the judiciary and related agencies.

The panel is expected to discuss the Public Integrity Unit — a special division of the Travis County District Attorney’s office that investigates public corruption and for which then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed funding in 2013.

Perry’s prior threat to withhold that more than $7 million in state money — made in an apparent attempt to force , in part, to his indictment

The Senate’s first-draft budget includes no funding for the Public Integrity Unit, which long has been a target of Texas Republicans even though it targets mostly Democrats.

In a statement sent Monday morning before the hearing, Nelson suggested continued funding may be contingent on relocation of the special unit, which also investigates insurance fraud and motor fuels tax fraud.

“The functions of the Public Integrity Unit are important, but they need to be carried out by individuals who are accountable to the entire state, not just the voters of one county,” Nelson said in a statement. “We have all session to consider where these functions should be housed and at what level they should be funded.”

The statement notes that the Senate’s draft budget, contained in Senate Bill 2, “keeps funding levels for the PIU at zero as the Legislature considers the future of the unit this session.”

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler
State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler