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Capital Highlights

House Democrats’ tax plan would help renters


Texas House Democrats unveiled a $20.9 billion plan for property tax relief that drops tax rates, increases the homestead exemption, gives annual rebates to renters, and includes pay raises for teachers, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The newest proposal comes as the Legislature continues wrangling over the issue in the second special session this year.

The bill, proposed by Rep. John Bryant, D-Dallas, is a combination of previous proposals with the added wrinkle of providing benefits for renters, who do not directly pay property taxes. The proposal also would raise the state’s per-student funding to public schools by $1,000 and give a permanent annual raise of $4,300 for teachers.

“Our effort is one that recognizes that you can't talk about property taxes without talking about public education,” Bryant said of his proposal to raise the state's basic allotment for school funding by $1,000.

The Senate has already passed a proposal to increase the homestead exemption to $100,000 and give a $2,000 pay hike for teachers in urban districts and a $6,000 increase to teachers in rural districts over the next two years.

Paxton won’t testify at impeachment trial

Attorney General Ken Paxton won’t testify at his upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate, according to his lead defense attorney, Tony Buzbee.

“We will not bow to their evil, illegal, and unprecedented weaponization of state power in the Senate chamber,” Buzbee said. The Senate could still try to force Paxton to testify, but Buzbee’s statement makes it apparent the defense would fight those efforts, the Statesman reported.

The House impeached Paxton in late May on 20 counts of misusing his office and other alleged crimes. He was immediately suspended from office pending the trial, which is set for Sept. 5. The rules adopted by the Senate give Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as presiding officer the “power to compel the attendance of witnesses.”

Paxton was indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015. In 2020, several whistleblowers in his office claimed he had abused his powers to assist Austin developer Nate Paul, who was charged in June with eight felony counts of making false statements to lenders.

TxDOT seeks input on $100 billion plan

The Texas Department of Transportation is seeking public input on a proposed 10-year, $100 billion transportation plan. The Unified Transportation Plan for 2024 is the agency’s road map to developing projects across the state.

“It’s important to work with our transportation partners and hear from the public to guide transportation improvements that address congestion and enhance safety,” Marc Williams, TxDOT executive director, said.

Projects included in the plan seek to ease congestion and improve connectivity. They address all types of transportation, including aviation, rail, freight, maritime and public transportation. The public comment period ends on Aug. 7. To weigh in, go to txdot.gov and click on the public input link.

State gets $60 million from feds for grid

The federal government is providing $60.6 million to the Texas Division of Emergency Management to help utilities strengthen the state’s power grid, the Texas Tribune reported. The grant program is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in late 2021.

“These grants will help modernize the electric grid to reduce impacts of extreme weather and natural disasters while enhancing power sector reliability,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

State emergency officials will decide how to use the money. Possibilities include improving how power-producing equipment performs in extreme heat or cold, or trimming trees near power lines.

Since Winter Storm Uri caused widespread outages in 2021, other storms have also caused power crises. An ice storm in late January and early February sent tree limbs crashing into power lines, particularly in Austin. In June, severe storms swept through East Texas, again knocking out power lines.

A total of $2.3 billion will be distributed by the Department of Energy across the nation to address power grid reliability issues.

New area code proposed for Houston area

The four area codes serving the greater Houston area — 281, 346, 713, and 832 — will run out of available numbers in about two years, prompting the Public Utility Commission of Texas to take public comments regarding a proposal for a fifth area code to be added by the North American Planning Administrator.

Counties affected include Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, San Jacinto, and Waller. The phone numbers of existing customers would not be affected, and customers in the current area codes already have to dial all 10 digits to place local calls.

To make a public comment, go to this link: https://tinyurl.com/44scxfs5.

Saharan dust brings hazy skies to state

Dust from Africa’s Sahara Desert is once again sweeping across Texas, making for hazy skies, pretty sunsets and a reduced chance of tropical storms forming in the Atlantic, according to KXAN-TV.

The waves of dust are caused by thunderstorms kicking up dust from the desert and sending it several thousand feet in the air, where easterly winds blow it across the ocean and, eventually, into the southern United States.

The dusty air plumes suppress tropical cyclone formation and also slow down the intensity of the storms that do form.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin, and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.

Capital Highlights, Texas News, Texas Press Association, Gary Borders, Saharan dust, TxDot, Ken Paxton


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