Charles Perry and the Perry-go-round

RURAL TEXAS — “I’M not sure at this present time who Charles Perry represents, but I’m certain it’s not the interests of this county,” Hale County Judge Bill Coleman declared.

The Perry-go-round — the state senator going on and on about how bad a bill is for his district, and then voting for it anyway — is getting bad reviews of late.

Round and round it went in a Senate Bill 2 floor speech. Perry’s theme: Most of his district sees the bill “as a personal assault on their ability to govern on a local level,” but he supports it.

SB2 would require local governments to hold November rollback elections before property tax revenues can increase 5 percent or more from the previous year. Currently, signed petitions can call elections at 8 percent or more.

In rural counties — 37 of Perry’s 51 counties have populations under 10,000 — officials manage the budgetary algebra of non-growth populations, capped tax rates, erratic mineral valuations, plus potential natural disasters and capital murder trials.

Adding a 5 percent cap variable into rural equations as an artificial attempt to reform property taxes in high-growth urban areas isn’t appreciated.

In Coleman’s Hale County, in the northern portion of the district, rates have been regularly managed below 5 percent, despite drought and crop production losses eroding land valuations since 2010.

But one day, need could arise. Then outside “fiscal responsibility” groups — those that help elect some senators who voted for SB2, including Perry — could get involved.

“Should I assume this bill is the Texas Senate’s open war on us?” Coleman asked.

Perry’s speech focused on two concerns: the bill assumes rural entities have a website, and it lacks a formulaic fix for counties with dramatic year-to-year mineral revenue fluctuations.

“He co-authored the bill and was out promoting it all summer. He was fully aware of these situations from the very beginning,” countered Stonewall County Judge Ronnie Moorhead, on the east side of the district. “Almost every one of Perry’s counties are mineral rich.”

Stonewall, population 1,940, has lost 65 percent in mineral revenues over the past two years.

“We’re at our legal cap rates now. We’ve tapped five or six months of reserves,” he said. “We’ll probably do the same in 2018, and then we’ll be at dangerous levels.”

Moorhead scoffed at unfunded website mandates, “We have one clerk between district and county courts; we’re not hiring a technology person.”

Perry gave dizzying rationale for SB2 support. He repeated forms of “we have to start limiting the growth of government” and substantiated them with a statement about his son purchasing a house in a high-growth urban area.

“I’m going to go with you on this bill for virtue of the fact that I do have a son who bought his first home. If the rate of growth in taxes increased at the rate they grew in urban areas, he’d move out of his house in 7 years,” Perry said.

Moorhead quipped, “At least 37 of his counties aren’t growing. But in Lubbock they’re growing, and they need government to grow. Unless those folks oppose ambulances, firetrucks and roads.”

At times, Perry appealed for sympathy. Of his “urban” and sometimes Internet-less rural district, he claimed, “I walk a different world than everybody on this floor in a very big way.”

On that Senate floor also sat Sen. Kel Seliger, whose adjacent district covers “urban” Amarillo, Midland and Big Spring, as well as areas such as Loving County, population 95. Seliger voted against SB2. Asked why, Moorhead explained,”Seliger understands the state needs to take responsibility for property taxes through school finance instead of blaming us.”

According to the state comptroller, 55 percent of local property taxes go to school districts. Since 2008, when the state’s share of public education cost was 45 percent, Austin has shifted 6.5 percent to local property owners.

Perry’s speech repeated hope that the House would fix SB2 for his district — hope he wouldn’t have to routinely maintain if he’d stop the Perry-go-round and vote for his district.

But as was indicated Thursday by the rural senator’s swing vote to bring Senate Bill 3 on school choice vouchers to the floor, followed by his vote for final passage — votes for big city vouchers underwritten partly by rural recapture dollars — the Perry-go-round won’t be stopping anytime soon.

Jay Leeson is, among other things, a writer and talk radio host in Lubbock and editor of OtherSideofTexas.com. Contact him on Twitter @jayleeson or by email.

This column first appeared in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

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