The Austin Chamber works together with a bipartisan group of elected officials and policymakers to ensure our entire state continues to plan for growth, improve infrastructure, and reform property taxes and school finance. We began the 87th Texas Legislative Session with a full set of priorities, and over the past several months, our team has walked miles in and around the Capitol to make sure that the voice of the Austin-area business community is represented.
The Chamber is pleased to announce that among our budget-related priorities, funding for the full Foundation School Program entitlement was secured, reflecting changes made last session to the school finance formula, including $3.1 billion to fund enrollment growth for public education and $1.1 billion in additional state aid related to property tax compression in the 2022-23 biennium. The State also funded $8.5 billion for higher education institution formulas, an increase of $486 million from the previous biennium, $100 million to the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), $40 million to the Governor’s University Research Initiative, and $45 million to the Moving Image Industry Incentive Program.
The Austin Chamber supported the House's bipartisan criminal justice reform package, Smarter Justice, Safer Texas, by Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody (D-El Paso) that restored public trust, protected public safety, and provided second chances to those who deserve them. Five of the 16 bills included in this package have been sent to the Governor.
During the February winter storms, the Chamber quickly worked to partner with city, business, and community leaders to prioritize needs and identify how best to provide support. Legislation has been passed, but more work is needed to ensure sufficient generation and transmission infrastructure has been weatherized for summer and winter extremes to meet the growing demand across the state.
One of the top priorities of the Austin Chamber is to ensure that we continue fostering a diverse and robust Central Texas economy, which is why we supported replenished funding for the Texas Enterprise Fund, a key job-creation program, and the Moving Image Incentive Fund. Our staff worked tirelessly to attempt to secure reauthorization of the Texas Economic Development Act (Chapter 313) of the Texas Tax Code, which is currently set to expire on December 31, 2022. Although it was ultimately not reauthorized by the Legislature, this program has been vital in attracting high capital investment projects such as Samsung and Tesla.
The Chamber is committed to supporting local education and talent to build a strong, qualified workforce pipeline. Our team worked to secure full funding for HB 3, passed by the Legislature in the previous session, which focuses on outcomes to ensure more students graduate college, career, and/or military ready. The Legislature also established the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative (Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas Workforce Commission) to align education and workforce development with state workforce needs, as well as the Texas Reskilling and Upskilling through Education (TRUE) Program to support workforce education. The Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative is a huge win for the region, and we’d especially like to thank our members who testified in support of this bill.
We advocate for project delivery and funding that supports urban congestion relief, enables innovative transportation technologies, and keeps our region connected. Through Propositions 1 and 7, the Legislature preserved funding related to rainy day overages, and HB5 created a statewide broadband office, statewide broadband implementation plan, and public/private advisory council.
During this session, we worked to minimize the impact of the pandemic to business, including the exemption of PPP loan proceeds from franchise tax calculations and liability protection for businesses following guidelines to minimize the spread of COVID-19. However, there is still a patchwork of local ordinances related to employer hiring practices, since the proposed legislation supported by the Chamber did not pass.
While so much remains uncertain, we know one thing: Special Sessions are coming. The Governor has yet to set the agenda, but redistricting maps for US Congress, State Senate, and State House must be approved in time for the primary filing deadlines, which have yet to be determined. The State must also decide how to appropriate $16 billion in expected federal recovery funds. The Chamber will continue to monitor and engage elected officials and policymakers as we learn more.