Lt. Gov. Patrick Reflects on Taxes, Local Control

Recognizing that time spent on the Texas Senate committees for public education, health and human services and finance didn’t make him an authority on all things oil and gas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick grants that he had a steep learning curve to climb when he was elected.

“It’s the area where I was the weakest, to be very candid with you,” he told the crowd gathered at the legislative and regulatory forum staged by the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers in Houston. “I could sit here and have each of you speak, and I would learn more.”

But Patrick did keep his eye on the issues and controlled what bills made it to the Texas Senate floor. Some say the position of lieutenant governor is the most powerful elected job in Texas. Patrick took notice and changed a rule that’s been in place for decades, and the Senate over which he presided dispensed with the 21-vote rule, a thorn in his side since his earliest days of campaigning.

The rule simply states that of the 31 senators, you need 21 of them to agree to let your bill be heard by the full Senate, perhaps to be passed, perhaps to be voted down. Patrick has long said this rule is unfair to the majority party. The rule now states you only need 19 votes to bring your bill to the floor; 20 members of the current Senate happen to be Republicans.

That rule change was good for the oil and gas industry, Patrick said, because it allowed the Senate to concentrate on key issues such as transportation.

“A comment was made that some of the bills your industry was worried about never came up,” he said. “Maybe they didn’t see the light of day because of the 19-vote rule.”

The rest of the state will have an opportunity to vote on various propositions in November. Proposition 1 is of particular interest to the oil and gas industry, and other property owners, Patrick said. Proposition 1 would raise the homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25.000. An amendment to that proposal has been tacked on that would require local taxing entities to have a public vote on whether to raise property taxes.   

“I like to call that one the ‘Patrick amendment,’” he said.

Patrick also addressed the hubbub around House Bill 40, the so-called “Denton fracking ban.” He said it passed his chamber rather easily. The bill, now a law, says that cities can’t regulate underground activity, like hydraulic fracturing. Cities complained about a loss of local control, but the Texas Municipal League, which lobbies on behalf of the some 900 cities in Texas, said it was neutral on the legislation.

“As a conservative, I believe in local control. But we cannot let our cities form a network of laws that, in essence, becomes a state law banning fracking,” he said. “We kept our word on that issue, that we were not going to allow, city by city, to impose rules on the oil and gas industry. But we’ll have to see how it plays out. I’m sure we’ll still be challenged on those issues.”

An award-winning journalist, Deon has reported on energy, business and politics for almost 20 years. Email Deon at deon.daugherty@rigzone.com

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