Texas lawmakers continue debating some of the key priority bills this session. This week on Eye on Politics (original air date: April 6), political reporter Jack Fink speaks with both the Texas Republican and Texas Democratic Party chairs about what they’re focused on.
Every week, CBS News Texas political reporter Jack Fink breaks down some of the biggest political stories grabbing headlines in North Texas and beyond. Watch the latest episode of Eye on Politics in the video player above and stream new episodes live every Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. on CBS News Texas.
Property tax relief
A priority for many lawmakers this session has been providing property tax relief to Texas homeowners. There are currently two competing visions for how to achieve this.
In the House, lawmakers have proposed lowering the cap on property appraisals from 10% now to 5%. In the Senate, lawmakers have proposed increasing the homestead exemption to $70,000 for 5.7 million homeowners. Jack asked Texas Republican Party Chair Matt Rinaldi if the state party prefers one plan to the other.
“We’d like to see as much money as possible used for property tax relief,” he said. “Of the two plans, it looks like the Senate is trying to tackle property tax relief a little harder. We’ll see what comes out.”
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said the Democrats have always supported increasing the homestead exemption for homeowners.
“We don’t believe, however, that we should take money from the rainy ray fund or surpluses in order to be able to drop property taxes in certain areas across the state of Texas,” Hinojosa said. “We think the surplus money that they want to use should be used to increase the funding to public schools today.”
When it comes to education in Texas, Hinojosa said the Texas Democratic Party’s priorities include increasing funding and paying teachers competitive wages.
“Unquestionably our schools in the state of Texas are underfunded,” Hinojosa said. “The legislature has to make a commitment and take that money that they’re talking about using for property tax relief and use it instead to fund our public education system in the state.”
In his interview with Jack, Hinojosa was critical of Republicans’ efforts to fund programs that would use taxpayer money to send some students to private schools, saying this would diminish the state’s public school system.
On the other side of the aisle, Rinaldi said Republicans want to see as many Texas students as possible eligible for these school choice programs.
This week the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 8, which would give $8,000 in taxpayer money to certain students each year for Education Savings Accounts or ESAs. The state estimates by 2028, the Education Savings Accounts could cost the state nearly $1 billion.
“I think it’s a great price tag in order to get families freedom and full use of their tax funds,” Rinaldi said. “In the grand scheme of the budget, it’s a good price to pay to get families and children the education that they deserve.”
Voting in Texas
Among the priorities Rinaldi listed for this legislative session: election integrity.
A bill passed in the Texas Senate last month would raise the penalty for voting illegally from a Class A misdemeanor back to a second-degree felony, the way it was before it was changed two years ago. Rinaldi said he believes the Texas House will also pass the bill.
If signed into law, SB-2 would apply to anyone who casts an illegal ballot, even if they are unaware they are ineligible to vote.
“Ignorance of the law is never an excuse,” Rinaldi said.
Hinojosa, meanwhile, said one of the priorities for the state’s Democratic Party is ensuring eligible Texans can vote easily and without obstacle.
“This is a constitutional right that we have,” he said. “Why are we making it hard for people to vote? Republicans continue to advocate that. We’d like to see voting more accessible to people across the state of Texas.”
To hear more from both Hinojosa and Rinaldi, watch the full episode of Eye on Politics in the video player at the top of this page.