Every Texan (formerly the Center for Public Policy Priorities) yesterday released its legislative wrap-up report of the 2021 third special session that concluded in October. The report highlights Every Texan’s stance on key legislation brought up in the special session, as well as an overview of how the bills passed in the session align with the organization’s own policy priorities.
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One of the issues emphasized in the report was how the legislature’s breakdown of the $16 billion allocated to Texas in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds represented a “missed opportunity to make transformational change.” The report said:
“The $16 billion dollars allocated to Texas in ARPA funds would have been a game changer for low-income Texans, schools, health care access, infrastructure, and housing needs in our growing state. Unfortunately, the Legislature prioritized bailing out businesses in paying unemployment insurance and property tax cuts.”
However, the report added that “it could have been worse”. Every Texan said they supported the legislature’s passage of Senate Joint Resolution 2, a Constitutional Amendment to increase the school property tax homestead exemption from $25,000 to $40,000, instead of using ARPA funds to provide this temporary property tax relief.
The organization referenced its past support of a flat-dollar homestead exemption, since the benefit for a lower-income homeowner’s income is a larger proportion than that of a higher-income homeowner.
They also noted the drawback of this homestead exemption, as renters, which represent 38% of Texas households, would receive no benefit since they are not homeowners. The report said:
“In a pandemic with a lot of needs related to housing, education, health care access, and infrastructure needs, it’s disappointing that tax breaks became such a priority. The homestead approach does, however, represent a political compromise in sessions where compromise was almost nonexistent.”
The report noted $7.2 billion in ARPA funds would be going to unemployment insurance, representing the biggest portion of the funds, and $3 billion would be left pending for future tax cuts. This leaves the remainder of the funds, over $3.5 billion, to bolster various state resources and programs such as broadband infrastructure, critical staffing needs for frontline workers, and expansion of mental health services. The report said:
“Many of the funded items are worthwhile, like expanding access to broadband and food security programs, but the small amount of funds for these priorities shows we have a lot of work to do in Texas policymaking to shift priorities to actually meet the needs of everyday Texans.”