TESTIMONY BY JIM ALLISON, SENIOR GENERAL COUNSEL, COUNTY JUDGES AND COMMISSIONERS ASSOCIATION OF TEXAS
Chair Neave Criado and Members of the House Committee on County Affairs:
For 101 years, the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas has provided educational, legal, administrative, and legislative services to its 1,270 members. All 254 Commissioners Courts are members of the Association. I have served as the legal counsel since 1983. Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter is the current State President. I am accompanied today by Johnson County Commissioner Rick Bailey, our Legislative Committee chairman and immediate past president, and Rick Thompson, our legislative director.
Thank you for this opportunity to present brief remarks on the relationship between county government and state government. County government is the basic provider of essential governmental services at the local level. Every person in Texas is a citizen of a county. County officials serve the same county constituents as their state representative and senator.
The Texas Constitution provides that the Commissioners Court “shall exercise such powers and jurisdiction over all county business, as is conferred by this constitution and the laws of the State.” However, counties, unlike home rule cities, do not have general ordinance powers and must obtain approval from the legislature to exercise their delegated powers and duties. This partnership status requires a close relationship and clear communication between counties and the legislature. This committee is the center point of that relationship and communication.
Unlike cities, counties do not receive significant funding from sales taxes. Counties are dependent upon the property tax to meet their responsibilities. Although our total tax burden remains low when compared to other states, our property taxes are relatively high. Counties are committed to effective, efficient government operations to achieve and maintain lower county property taxes.
When the legislature mandates additional duties upon counties without providing funding, an increase in the county property tax is required. This committee has an excellent record of identifying and revising proposed unfunded mandates and obtaining state funding for these responsibilities. Until our state adopts a constitutional prohibition on unfunded mandates like many other states, please continue to identify and revise these bills. Counties will perform the duties required by the legislature. We only request that the responsibility of funding these duties not be borne solely by property taxpayers.
Unfortunately, the state has not provided sufficient facilities and staff to meet its obligation to accept TDCJ inmates, mentally incompetent patients, and state-committed juveniles. These backlogs have shifted these costs to county property taxpayers. With the current available funds, we encourage the elimination of these backlogs and reimbursement to counties for these costs, providing direct property tax relief to our taxpayers.
Serving as a state legislator or a county official requires personal sacrifice. We appreciate your dedication to the citizens of this state. Please let us know whenever we can provide assistance.