Texas House seeks cap on hotel tax below El Paso's

ditulis oleh : Jomblo Terhormat 29 Juli 2013
AUSTIN -- Here are highlights of action in the Legislature last week. To follow them as they happen, log on to elpasotimes.typepad.com/ capitol

Hotel tax cap

The Texas House on Tuesday passed a bill that would cap hotel taxes at half a percentage point lower than the rate voters approved for El Paso in November. El Paso's increase in the hotel rate was cited as a reason for the increase, said state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso.

The bill applies only to proposals for new tax rates, so it wouldn't affect the increase in El Paso, which is intended to help pay for construction of a Triple-A baseball stadium. The bill would cap hotel rates at 17 percent, while the El Paso rate is now 17.5 percent.

interested parties, Texas hotel occupancy tax rates are among the highest in the country, which impacts the state's ability to compete for group and convention business," says a legislative analysis of the bill, which was written by state Rep. Craig Eiland, a Democrat from Galveston, an island that is heavily dependent on tourism.

The bill goes to the Senate.

Bliss solar farm

A bill that would ease the function of a massive solar farm planned for Fort Bliss passed the Texas Senate on Monday.

Senate Bill 1586, sponsored by state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, would increase the capacity of government customers' solar and wind connections to the electrical grid. It would increase from 2 megawatts to 10 megawatts 

if the customer is the federal government. For schools and other state or local governments, the connection cap would be 5 megawatts. Customers are refunded for the power they put onto the grid from solar panels and windmills. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the average U.S. residential customer used 11.3 kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2011. So for residential customers, the existing 2-megawatt connection cap is more than adequate.
But it's woefully inadequate for a massive military installation trying to switch to 100 percent renewable energy the way Fort Bliss is.
In April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the go-ahead for a 20-megawatt solar farm at Bliss that is slated to be completed in 2105 -- the same year the Army hopes that 25 percent of all of its energy consumption will come from renewable sources.
The new solar farm at Fort Bliss will be the largest in the Army, and it will come in addition to solar arrays that already generate almost 15 megawatts on the post, according to a statement by the Army Corps of Engineers.
If it becomes law, the Senate legislation passed Monday would mean that the new solar farm at Bliss will need only two connections instead of the five that would be required under current law.
The bill now goes to the Texas House.
Officials' misdeeds
The Texas House on Friday passed a bill that would require the disclosure of the dirty details when public officials settle complaints against them at public expense.
The bill was filed in response to a scandal earlier this year when Tarrant County paid $375,000 to settle a sexual harassment complaint against District Attorney Joe Shannon Jr. A subordinate complained that Shannon groped her, but the county fought the release of those details.
An opponent of the bill forcing disclosure, state Rep. William Zedler, R-Arlington, said it would serve as a disincentive to settle complaints against public officials.
But the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said it would encourage transparency and discourage bad behavior by public officials if they know their deeds will become public.
Burnam was joined by some of the most conservative Republicans, including state Rep. Van Taylor of Plano, and the bill passed 86-50. It now goes to the Senate.
New road funding fails
Several senior state representatives -- especially senior Republicans -- stuck out their necks Thursday by proposing increased vehicle-registration fees to fund transportation projects. But they couldn't persuade some of their more junior colleagues to follow them.
House members worked right up to midnight Thursday -- the deadline by which all House bills must receive preliminary approval or die.
State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, proposed a $30 increase in registration fees to generate $1.3 billion a year in new money for transportation projects.
The Texas Department of Transportation has said it wants an extra $4 billion a year to keep pace with the state's growing needs and to maintain infrastructure.
Some conservatives proposed to tap into the state's rainy-day fund and to use the money to float bonds. But Darby said it's clear the state needs a new, ongoing source of road revenue to fund projects and pay down the mountain of transportation debt Texas already has.
He acknowledged that increased registration fees would not be popular and he invited his colleagues to offer alternatives.
" 'No" is not a solution," he said.
Darby also noted that leaving roads in disrepair cost the average Texas family an extra $1,500 in vehicle damage. He called that a "hidden tax" that some of his colleagues refused to acknowledge.
But even with an amendment that would have halved the registration-fee increase to $15, it was apparent that Darby didn't have the votes to pass his bill, so he pulled it down.
State Rep. Joe Pickett, an El Paso Democrat and former chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said more toll roads are likely because Darby's bill failed. The tolls collected can be used to repay bonds floated to build the roads.
However, Pickett said, tolls are an extremely inefficient way to finance transportation. Administration costs on the projects average 50 percent, he said.
Unhappy ex-lawmaker
Former state Rep. Chente Quintanilla is not pleased with many of the local bills promoted this legislative session by the El Paso delegation.
Quintanilla, a Democrat, is having to watch the session from his home in Tornillo after deciding not to defend his House seat against a primary challenge by former County Commissioner Willie Gandara Jr.
Gandara was later busted for drug trafficking, but when he got into the legislative race, Quintanilla ran for Ganadara's old Lower Valley commissioner's seat, but lost to Vince Perez in the Democratic primary.
Quintanilla had been rumored to be calling non-El Paso legislators and telling them to vote against local bills such as one that would give the county zoning authority around the Tornillo port of entry and another that would allow county oversight of a scandal-plagued emergency-services district. Contacted last week, Quintanilla said he hasn't been making such calls, but he might in the coming weeks.

"Maybe it's time to do that," Quintanilla said.
The bill requiring more oversight of emergency services districts appears all but certain to become law.
It was filed in response to a scandal in Emergency Services District 2. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is investigating allegations that funds were used to remodel a fire chief's home, purchase Xbox games and stereos, and to buy fixtures for a fire chief's home.
The district oversees the Clint, Fabens, Montana Vista, San Elizario, Socorro and the West Valley volunteer fire departments.
"Those are things that happened in the past," Quintanilla said, and added that it and the Tornillo zoning bill "blindsided" residents who would be affected by them.
Quintanilla did not sound as if he had any substantive objections to the zoning bill, which is intended to control development around a $130 million port expansion. He said there was a lack of consultation with Lower Valley farmers, who have testified against the bill, even though farms are exempted under the bill.
Perhaps Quintanilla's biggest problem with the bills is that they have been strongly advocated by County Judge Veronica Escobar.
"All this is Judge Escobar trying to take more control," Quintanilla said.

Source :  http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_23224646/texas-house-seeks-cap-hotel-tax-below-el

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