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Representative Debbie Riddle Email letter to Constituents on Interim studies

August 16, 2011

The Honorable Joe Straus

Speaker, Texas House of Representatives

2W.13

 

Dear Speaker Straus,

Thank you for the opportunity to share my constituents’ suggestions regarding study charges for our House committees during this interim period. As I’ve shared with you, the taxpayers of my district are very pleased with the outstanding accomplishments of the session regarding voter photo ID and balancing the budget with no new taxes.  However, they are not the least bit pleased about the fact that many of their top legislative priorities once again failed due to the Democrats’ strong opposition and clever blocking of bills in committees, especially in the Senate.

We can remedy these problems with your leadership and careful study and consideration of these issues during the interim. With the proper attention in the coming months, the House can be poised to score key conservative victories through the introduction of well researched, well publicized bills as soon as early filing is permitted in November of next year, with no need for time consuming negotiations or compromises. In other words, we can hit the ground running and never look back if we use our time wisely now.

To that end, I would like to suggest the following topics for further study this interim:

1) Joint-Select Interim Committee on Border Security and Illegal Immigration

Border Security

If our border were truly secure, then there would be no illegal persons, weapons, drugs, or any kind of contraband whatsoever crossing into or out of Texas. Law enforcement has repeatedly testified to various committees that it is absolutely possible to achieve this level of border security, but it requires a real commitment from our legislature.

However, it is not something that can be achieved simply by throwing money at the problem. It requires precision, and precision requires a thorough understanding of all the underlying questions and issues. Questions like:

  • What kinds of resources would law enforcement need to fully secure our border? Raw manpower? Increased technology? Increased training? Greater cooperation with federal resources?
  • What issues are currently keeping our border less than secure, and how much of those issues are within the control of the state legislature?
  • What is the threat to Texans posed by organized crime in Mexico, and how do we confront that as a state government? What is the threat to Texans posed by other foreign dangers, such as international terrorist cells rumored to be functioning in Mexico and South America?
  • What needs to be done to address human and drug trafficking across our southern border?

A thorough investigation and report by a joint-select interim committee would yield the answers to these difficult questions and many more, and position both the House and Senate to act on those findings so that results could finally be realized in this upcoming session.

Illegal Immigration

When your house is flooding, the first thing to do is turn off the water. That’s what border security does: it shuts off the flow of illegal immigration and other issues related to it. But just like a flooded house, once you stop the flooding, you still have a mess to clean up. And even if we fully stop all the illegal immigration that is coming into the state, we still have to deal with more than a million illegal immigrants who are already here in Texas.

But we never solve anything in our sessions because of disagreement and speculation over what illegal immigrants contribute to the economy versus what costs they incur. There’s rampant speculation about the legal consequences to addressing the illegal immigration population in Texas. There’s even confusion about how much authority a state really has to address it in the first place. These questions all have answers, and it is the state’s responsibility to find the answers during the interim so that we can introduce legislation that clearly and concisely addresses these issues once and for all.

The people of Texas will not tolerate further inaction on this essential policy issue. We must take action this interim or risk the consequences. Please give the people what they are demanding and allow the House to make the detailed inquiry into this issue that is so necessary. I would be honored to chair the committee if you would allow me to do so.

2)  Margin Tax/ Franchise Tax reform

Back in 2006, I was one of the most vocal opponents to the creation of the margins tax. I warned that it would stifle economic development for small businesses and it was doomed to underperform its projections. Five years later, I am sorry to say that I was correct. Much of our school finance crisis this session was the result of this ill-conceived tax, and it is past time for it to be retired in favor of a broad-based tax that more closely resembles the previous business tax structure in place previous to 2006. This is an essential area of study for the Ways and Means committee this interim.

3)  Swapping Property Taxes for Sales Taxes

There is no form of taxation more fair than a consumption tax. In essence, the taxpayer is in charge of what their tax bill will look like when you tax only what is consumed. Property taxes are by their very nature unjust, because they tax you year after year on something you may have already paid for in its entirety. It makes true property ownership impossible, because in the end, the state continues to charge you rent for your most prized personal possession. There is no reason to continue this system, when we can generate the same revenue, if not even more, through a consumption tax that effects all taxpayers the same whether they rent an apartment or own a mansion. Much of the research has already been done here in Texas by political think-tanks. All the state needs to do is invite this research in through an interim study by the Ways and Means committee so it can be put forward publicly and agreed upon before the next session begins. It may very well be the school finance solution we’ve been looking for.

 4)  Joint-Select Interim Committee on Long-Term Care

From 1997 to 2005, there was a Legislative Oversight Committee on Long-Term Care established in the Health and Safety Code. I chaired this committee in 2004, but it was abolished through legislative action in 2005. But now the state is facing a Medicaid crisis, and our greatest generation is at risk of being left out in the cold if we don’t attend to the funding problems facing nursing homes and other issues inherent in long-term care. It is important that create a joint-select interim committee to study these issues as they pertain specifically to long-term care before we are swallowed by the imminent storm that is approaching.

5)  School Choice/ Vouchers

The future of our state and nation depends on the quality of education we provide for our children. Yet we require parents to send their children to schools that don’t meet their needs, because that’s where their zipcode says they must go. Any attempt to address this issue in session is met with concerns over the impact of school choice and vouchers for private schools on our existing educational infrastructure. But if the Public Education committee were to spend the interim separating truth from fiction, the full legislature would be able to make informed decisions regarding the best way to provide the highest quality education to the largest number of students. It is plainly obvious how this could result in significant cost savings to the state, as well as significant long-term gains to our state’s economy as our quality of education continues to increase.

6)  Eminent Domain

The state is forcing a large number of senior citizens in my district out of their homes through the power of eminent domain. Many of these individuals are on a fixed income, and their property taxes are frozen at their current residence. However, they will not be able to take their frozen tax rate with them to their new residence in many cases. In fact, for so many of those affected, they won’t even be able to buy a new home for the price of “fair market value” paid to them by the state. We need to take a hard look at providing fair, financially viable solutions for our Greatest Generation, solutions that will allow them to maintain their same standard of living, after they are thrown out of their own homes by the state.

In addition to these six broad legislative priorities, one more item is very important me and my constituents this interim.

I filed HB 19 in the previous session to address the growingproblem of unlicensed drivers causing accidents in Texas and then simply disappearing, leaving the victims to literally pick up the pieces. This behavior cannot be tolerated. I would like the Committee on Homeland Security
and Public Safety to examine this issue in more detail during the interim.

Thank you for your consideration of these topics. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff
at either my Capitol or district offices.

Sincerely,

Debbie Riddle

State Representative

District 150