Category Archives: Business

End of Precinct Voting in Williamson County and more…

The September/October issue of Community Impact has, as usual, lots of depressing news for Libertarians.  Despite its conservative reputation, Williamson County and Round Rock governments continue business as usual with such initiatives as allowing sales tax dollars in Round Rock to be used for business welfare initiatives, the centralization of our voting institutions with the end of precinct voting, more high handed top-down water restrictions as a substitute for market forces, the raising of property taxes, and more economic planning in Georgetown’s downtown re-branding project.  And that’s just two months worth of work.

This November, Round Rock residence will vote on three initiatives.  The first is to raise the motel tax, a delightful way to tax out of town visitors who don’t get to vote on their increased bill.  The proceeds from this tax will go into the pockets of developers of an athletic facility.  The second initiative would remove the restrictions on what the city council can spend sales tax dollars on.  With their hands untied, the Round Rock city council can demonstrate that it’s knowledge of profitable business is superior to that of entrepreneurs and investors by subsidizing favored developers.  By subsidizing risk, such a measure would guarantee more long run business failures than would otherwise occur, since the cost of taking chances on iffy business propositions would be lower.  The last initiative is a series of mostly innocuous city charter changes, except for one, described only as “Clarify that referendum provisions do not apply to ordinances authorizing the issuance of bonds”.  Does this mean the city council can issue debt without passing it by the voters first?

Meanwhile the county commissioners are busy centralizing all voting institutions in the county by disbanding precinct voting in favor of dubious electronic voting machines in newly designated “voting centers”.  Such a move would make the reliability and transparency of the vote counting process, the location and availability of these “voting centers”, and the trustworthiness of our voting process becoming a matter of discretion.  Are particular neighborhoods prone to voting the wrong way on favored county or city initiatives?  No problem, just move the “voting center” a little further away, and the marginal number of votes cast by those residents will fall.

Rain, or the lack thereof, has also been keenly on the minds of Williamson County residents.  Reports are that the county is down some 17″ below its normal average rainfall YTD.   If this were a free market, increased scarcity would be met with rising prices, which encourages everyone involved to practice conservation for their own self and family interests.  Rising profits would also encourage other firms to find other sources of water and to more efficiently provide what is available, which both increase the supply to the community.  However, economics 101 is generally unknown to our local politicians, so we get heavy handed blanket restrictions on watering our lawns and washing our cars.  Higher prices would encourage residents to look to lower cost alternative means of achieving those goals.  A blanket restriction makes that impossible.   Most importantly, higher prices would impact business and agricultural water use behavior.  This is important since generally agriculture and business use of water far exceeds residential consumption.

Taking a “very fiscally conservative approach”, Round Rock City Manager Steve Norwood plans to raise property taxes so the city can maintain its preferred spending levels on those proposed business subsidies and sports facilities.  Very fiscally conservative, sir.

And finally, echoing similar projects in Austin and Round Rock, Georgetown is busily spending public moneys on its downtown rejuvenation project. Subsidizing museums and other frippery that no private investor would touch on their own because of how little value actual residents of the city place on such things.

Vote Libertarian folks.  It’s our only hope.

Taking local priorities to the Legislature

Texas Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Byan, addressed Hutto city officials, staff and community members during the 2009 Hutto Day at the Capitol, a biennial event where city representatives go to the statehouse to meet lawmakers and deliver priorities.

 

Williamson County governments take various approaches to communicating with their state government during legislative sessions, from combined efforts to protect the interests of cities and the county government to an individual city directly contacting its legislators.     

Texas Municipal League

City governments can be members of the Texas Municipal League, a nonprofit organization formed in 1913 that serves cities and provides lobbying services.     

TML provides “a system of support for all cities in Texas in relation to pushing issues that we have that are shared, maintaining local control over tax rates [and] maintaining current constitutional provisions limiting increases in appraisal values,” Hutto City Manger Ed Broussard said.     

The cities of Georgetown, Hutto and Taylor are TML members. TML has 1,117 member cities, according to the organization’s website.     

“They are pretty much the eyes and ears of the legislature,” City of Georgetown Public Information Officer Keith Hutchinson said.     

TML provides legislative services via two full-time lobbyists, according to the service description. The organization monitors legislation in the House and Senate that would affect cities and sends notifications to city staff when issues arise.     

“They have a legislative agenda they follow and keep the membership informed with what is going on with it,” City of Taylor spokeswoman Jean Johnson said.     

Williamson County Alliance

In Williamson County, local government bodies and organizations team up to increase awareness in the legislature of shared issues. The Williamson County Alliance is a combination of cities, chambers of commerce and county officials that meet quarterly.     

“The purpose was to look at things from a regional perspective and make sure everyone is talking to each other,” said Marlene McMichael, a Georgetown-based consultant who coordinates the Williamson County Alliance events. “I think the main thing is that it keeps everybody informed about the key projects in each community.”     

Members of the Williamson County Alliance have planned a trip to the Legislature on April 13. Dubbed Williamson County Day at the Capitol, representatives from the county will be recognized on the House and Senate floors with resolutions. Then, they will visit the state elected officials. In previous sessions, the alliance has hosted an ice cream social for lawmakers and staff and delivered Williamson County–themed gifts to the lawmakers to try to keep Williamson County on their minds.     

“We were trying to bring attention to the fact that we are just north of the [Austin] area, and we have all the growth issues that you have along the I-35 corridor,” McMichael said.     

The alliance will meet in February to set an itinerary for Williamson County Day at the Capitol and create a list of county priorities. Though the list has not been finalized, McMichael said top issues are likely to include addressing the environmental study process for road construction and resisting taking on expenses when the state cuts it budget.     

Hutto Day at the Capitol

When cities have specific agendas to communicate to their legislators, they find more direct ways to do so. One method is to establish rapport with representatives and senators to directly deliver requests.     

For the 2011 session, the City of Hutto has itemized a list of priorities to take to the Capitol on its own. The city coordinated with other local organizations to offer suggestions for the common good, which is a different approach from previous years, Broussard said. Hutto officials plan to take up specific matters with legislators representing districts the city falls in. Hutto’s short list of legislative priorities approved by City Council Jan. 20 hits on four main points.     

Education
The city committed to assisting a higher education campus to come to Hutto, funding of its fast-growing school district and delaying the start of new state standardized testing.     

Local control
Maintaining local control over taxes, limiting appraisal value increases, curbing state mandates, allowing locals to determine property use and letting voters decide when to increase tax rate caps in emergency services districts are ways Hutto wants to maintain local control.     

Family safety and health
Hutto City Council members support advocating for family violence prevention and enforcement and getting Texas grant funding for parks and recreation.     

Business expansion
Hutto will ask the Legislature for expanded infrastructure funds and continued local control over economic development sales tax funds.     

Hutto will also have a day at the Legislature, Hutto Day at the Capitol March 23. As with Williamson County Day at the Capitol, the plan is to have resolutions read on the House and Senate floors, visit lawmakers and host a reception.     

“Hutto Day at the Capitol is our opportunity to go and put our best foot forward for all the different representatives and senators,” Broussard said.     

Suggesting legislation

The City of Taylor has taken a more direct approach to fulfill specific city needs.     

“For instance, Larry Gonzales is our state representative, who took Diana Maldonado’s place,” Johnson said. “There have been times when we have taken it on ourselves to visit with him directly.”     

Also, during the 81st legislative session, Taylor supported a bill sponsored by Maldonado, HB 2805, relating to “the administration, powers, duties, operation, and financing of the East Williamson County Multi-Institution Teaching Center,” according to the description provided by the Texas House of Representatives.     

“We did a very special lobbying effort to get that done so that we could get EWCHEC here,” Johnson said. “So we went to her directly with that.”     

This article is reposted from the Community Impact Newspaper By Suzanne Haberman with Additional reporting by Samantha Bryant