All kinds of drama surrounding HB 3540 over the past 24 hours. Here’s Harvey Kronberg‘s analysis of the developments:
Last night the Senate implemented a rarely used measure to cut off debate on the controversial HB 3540, described by many as the largest tax bill in Texas history.
With the clock running out and a need to get the bill to conference committee with as few differences as possible, Dean John Whitmire (D-Houston) invoked the rarely used Motion to Call the Question — a non-debatable motion ending the debate and amendment process on second reading. Whitmire argued that the fifteen member Finance Committee had already heard most of the amendments.
The maneuver had the effect of killing most of the amendments. Second reading amendments are passed with a simple majority. Amendments on third reading require two thirds of the members present to pass.
A clearly angry Senator Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria) rose to speak on the bill.
He complained that for the previous two sessions, the Senate had clearly been losing stroke in the process to the House. Major bills would come back from the House only to be debated in the last week of May. He noted the Senate had even changed its rules in order to become more competitive with the House.
Despite the fact that the Senate convened at 10AM, he complained that HB 3540 was not taken up until the late evening.. He said, "Now they don’t want to take a bunch of amendments because it would jeopardize the conference committee. Well, I’m sorry." He added he was elected to represent his constituents.
He continued, "I don’t believe in kowtowing to the House simply for the matter of expediency."
He turned to Whitmire and said, "Fifteen is not a majority of the Senate. What you’ve done with that Motion is say that fifteen people direct this whole body. This is the largest tax bill in the history of the state and we have had little or no input."
Armbrister said that HB 3540 is an even larger tax bill than HB 3.
The so-called "reformed franchise tax" absent the gross receipts component is now in HB 3540.
The broad business community has been united in its outrage toward the Senate. One trade association executive said, "I’ve spent years protecting Senators from my members. I can’t do that anymore."
Another added, "Apparently there are no friendly incumbents."
Most believe their taxes are going up but with no commensurate property tax relief.