TEXAS VIEW: No noticeTHE POINT: Legislature kills mandate to publish new tax rates.

Governance with consent of the governed: It’s what sets our country apart from so many others. It’s credited with enabling the United States to become the most successful country in modern history.
Our nation’s founders, who built the system of governance we enjoy, knew that full knowledge is necessary in order to make the best decisions possible, especially with regard to laws and the election of those who enact them. It’s why open records and meetings laws are so important.
It’s a simple notion: People have a right to know what their elected officials are doing and how their tax dollars are being spent.
The Texas Legislature either has forgotten, or doesn’t care, about that important right, and officials’ need to be accountable to their constituents.
In one of its last acts before adjourning for two years, the legislature passed Senate Bill 2, the property tax reform bill that was one of the state’s priorities. A last-minute addition, however, was an amendment that eliminates the requirement that taxing bodies publish ads in their local newspapers to tell the public what their new tax rates are going to be.
Even the way this amendment was injected into the bill raises questions.
Normally, a bill is submitted to each chamber of the legislature. Often, two different versions emerge after House and Senate members amend their respective bills. The lawmaker who authored the bill, and then the entire chamber, can accept or reject a proposed amendment. A conference committee including members of both chambers then reconciles the two versions and sends a single bill to each chamber for an up-or-down vote.
Elimination of the disclosure requirement didn’t follow this normal procedure but was made “outside the bounds.” It was added by the conference committee, so that lawmakers weren’t able to vote on the amendment itself. They could only vote on the final tax bill that included the change.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, of McAllen, Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg and Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, all Democrats, were on the conference committee that added the change.
Government bodies are now expected to publish new tax rates on their websites. It is assumed that taxpayers, instead of seeing such changes in their daily paper, will now monitor the websites of their various cities, counties, school districts and other taxing bodies. Some of those bodies currently don’t have websites; others might go weeks, even months without updating them.
Gov. Greg Abbott, who as attorney general wrote several opinions indicating an appreciation for government transparency, could veto the bill and call a special session to craft a new one without the anti-transparency amendment, but that’s doubtful.
Fortunately, some local officials across the state already have pledged to continue keeping the public informed of tax changes, and we hope Odessa and Ector County officials will do the same. If we’re lucky our fears of clandestine tax increases will be proven unfounded; whatever motivated lawmakers to impose this change, however, gives little reason for optimism.