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Analysis: Texas doesn’t have an income tax — and isn’t getting one any time soon



Austin Price for The Texas Tribune

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature wants voters to amend the state Constitution — kind of a big deal — in a way that doesn’t really do much.

The Texas Constitution already requires voter approval before the state can impose an income tax and requires the proceeds from any such tax to be used for property tax relief and public education. Now voters are being asked to replace that with a constitutional ban on an income tax, which sounds fine until you sort out the final result.

Untangled, that would leave the current voter approval needed for a personal income tax in place, but without the education requirement. If the voters want a personal income tax now — calm yourself, they don’t — all they have to do is vote for one. If the new ban passes in November, all voters would have to do to get a personal income tax is to vote for one. Both cases would require initial approval from a Texas Legislature that is, to put it mildly, violently allergic to personal income taxes. And the current version would require the money to be used for education and property taxes, while the new and improved version would remove any such requirement.

If the constitutional amendment is approved, Texans won’t be any more protected from a personal income tax, in practical terms, than they are today. But they might feel better about it, and they’ll be reminded — loudly, and soon — that the Legislature passed a bill expressing passionate disdain for that dreaded tax.

This has happened before. The current constitutional provision came after then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock expressed a fleeting interest in income taxes. One wonky argument in favor is that Texas is overly reliant on sales and property taxes because it doesn’t have an income tax — and that overall taxes would be fairer and more moderate if all three taxes were in the state government’s portfolio.

The political argument is easier to sell: The state can’t increase a tax it doesn’t levy, and one way to keep spending down is to limit the government’s sources of revenue.

Wonks hardly ever win arguments with politicians.

As a result, this will be fourth among the 10 amendments on the November ballot this year: “The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.”

It was a partisan vote on both sides of the Capitol this year, but the proposed amendment got the required two-thirds supermajority from both the House and the Senate to send it on to voters.

The current provision would require personal income tax money to be used mostly for property tax cuts and education — the big-ticket items lawmakers were so excited about in the most recent legislative session.

The proposed provision would allow personal income tax money to be used for whatever the brainiacs in a future Legislature want to use it for — but makes it marginally harder to put such a tax into effect.

Marginally. Both the current and proposed versions would require voter approval. But the new one would require a constitutional amendment, which means two-thirds of the Legislature would have to agree to send it to voters.

The bragging rights might be more tangible. This could be good politics for lawmakers who supported it, allowing them to yap about income taxes for a few months without having any real effect they’ll have to answer for in the future.

In essence, they’re simply asking voters to change the description of why Texas doesn’t have a personal income tax and setting themselves up for praise for signing on to that spectacularly popular sentiment.

But nod to the wonks on the way to the victory parade, and remember that they were the ones with a long-term plan for keeping public schools running without relying on ever-increasing property taxes.

Like it or not, things cost money.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at


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After raising $4.5 million in third quarter, O’Rourke says he needs to “break through” now more than ever



Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Texas Tribune

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke raised $4.5 million in the third quarter, his campaign announced Friday as he acknowledged it was more urgent than ever to “break through” in the still-crowded primary.

The third-quarter total is an improvement over the $3.6 million that the former El Paso congressman took in during the previous quarter, and it came despite a halt to fundraising for roughly two weeks in August after the deadly El Paso shooting. Still, the total puts him behind a majority of primary rivals who have released their third-quarter figures so far, including two leading candidates who each raised around $25 million.

After announcing his third-quarter figures, O’Rourke gathered his staff in El Paso for a livestreamed meeting Thursday evening where he discussed the state of his campaign, which has been mired in the low single digits in polls for months.

“We have a path to the nomination — and through that, a path to the presidency — but at this moment we’ve got to break through,” O’Rourke said. “So I need everyone’s help, doing everything that they can … to make sure that you make this commitment now. There is no later moment to do it. It must happen now if we’re going to make the most of this moment, of the momentum that we have, of this wonderful trajectory that we’re on.”

O’Rourke’s latest haul covered July, August and September, which his campaign said was its best fundraising month yet. It also said its average donation in the third quarter was $26, and 99% of contributions were under $200.

O’Rourke did not immediately share how much cash on hand he had. That figure was $5.2 million at the end of the second quarter.

At the staff meeting, O’Rourke campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon presented a host of metrics that suggested the candidate was gaining traction, especially last month, but acknowledged a frustrating disconnect between those measures and where he is at in the polls. She blamed a “media trap” that is portraying the primary as a two-person race — presumably between the two highest-polling candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

“That’s a real impediment — it’s total bullshit — but it’s something that we gotta take seriously and figure out what to do about,” O’Malley Dillon said, going on to cite polls that show how few primary voters have settled on a candidate yet.

To overcome the “media trap,” she said, the campaign will focus on advertising and organizing — and it will need to raise $2 million over the next six weeks. She said the goal is “not a stunt, it’s not a make-believe deal, it’s like an actual built-out budget for line items.”

Throughout the meeting, O’Malley Dillon sought to give supporters ample reason to be optimistic, touting O’Rourke’s leadership on issues like gun control in the primary field, his travels to places that do not usually see presidential hopefuls and his connection with underrepresented voters who are not always reflected in surveys. She also insisted he was “playing to win” in the early voting states, emphasizing the delegate-rich opportunity awaiting him in Texas on Super Tuesday, or March 3.

Despite the bright spots identified by his campaign, O’Rourke has struggled for much of the race to climb out of the lower tier in polls, and his latest fundraising placed him in the lower third of candidates who have volunteered their third-quarter numbers ahead of the Tuesday deadline to report them to the Federal Election Commission. The totals have ranged from a little over $2 million to $25.3 million and $24.6 million for Sanders and Warren, respectively.

Still, O’Rourke can take a measure of solace in beating his second-quarter tally, which marked a sharp slowdown in fundraising after he pulled in $9.4 million in his campaign’s first 18 days. Moreover, the third quarter saw him suspend campaign fundraising for 12 days in early August as he responded to the El Paso shooting, instead using his platform to raise over $1 million for groups fighting gun violence and other causes.

The other Texan running for president, Julián Castro, has not released his latest fundraising numbers yet. He raised $1.1 million in the first quarter and $2.8 in the second quarter. Without releasing specific figures, his campaign has said the third quarter was his best one yet.

Both Texans are set to participate in the fourth primary debate Tuesday in Ohio, but they have their work cut out for them to qualify for the fifth debate, which is Nov. 20 in Georgia. Both have accrued the 165,000 donors required for the event, according to their campaigns. However, they also need to hit 3% in four qualifying polls, something Castro has not done yet and O’Rourke has achieved just once. The deadline for the polling requirement is Nov. 13.

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Beto O’Rourke says religious institutions should lose tax-exempt status if they oppose gay marriage



Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune


Beto O’Rourke says religious institutions should lose tax-exempt status if they oppose gay marriage

Beto O’Rourke says religious institutions should lose tax-exempt status if they oppose gay marriage” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said religious institutions should be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage, a position that sparked swift and fierce criticism from social conservatives.

The former El Paso congressman made the comment Thursday night during a CNN town hall on LGBTQ rights. Anchor Don Lemon asked O’Rourke, “Do you think religious institutions — like colleges, churches, charities — should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”

“Yes,” O’Rourke replied without hesitating, drawing a round of applause. “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone or any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us, and so as president, we are going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

In taking the stance, O’Rourke again staked out politically explosive territory with few allies in the primary field, much like his crusade for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons following the deadly El Paso shooting in August. He did not immediately back down from the position on tax-exempt status, tweeting his quote on the topic minutes after he was done at the town hall.

By Friday, GOP reaction had intensified, with U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, issuing a statement denouncing O’Rourke for “extreme intolerance” and “bigoted nonsense.”

“O’Rourke and some Democrats have declared war on churches,” Texas Values president Jonathan Saenz said in a statement. “We say come and take it. This unconstitutional threat of using the government to punish churches for their Biblical beliefs on marriage must end and will be vigorously opposed. This is just another example of leftists that want to effectively ban the Bible and destroy our US Constitution.”

Calling O’Rourke’s position a “direct affront to the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty,” the Plano-based First Liberty Institute said it was prepared to take legal action if O’Rourke or any future president sought to carry out the idea.

Earlier in the town hall, which was in Los Angeles, one of O’Rourke’s primary rivals, Cory Booker, did not go nearly as far in response to a similar question. Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, emphasized that there needs to be “consequences for discrimination” but repeatedly declined to say if he believed religious institutions should lose their tax-exempt status over opposition to gay marriage.

O’Rourke released a plan for LGBTQ equality in June. Lemon cited it as he asked O’Rourke the question Thursday night, noting it said, “Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it should not be used to discriminate.”

O’Rourke has previously targeted tax-exempt status for the National Rifle Association, calling for its revocation in response to a report by U.S. Senate Democrats that it served as a “foreign asset” for Russia ahead of the 2016 election.

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Troopers have sued the Texas Department of Public Safety over a waist size policy. Commissioners say the policy is needed.



Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

By Jolie McCullough, The Texas Tribune

The state has put another stamp of approval on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s controversial new policy to measure state troopers’ physical fitness by their waistlines.

After a lengthy Thursday morning meeting with agency officials rattling off studies and standards used to come up with their often-changing physical fitness tests and measurements, the three-member Public Safety Commission unanimously adopted DPS’s fitness program, certifying it is in line with scientific standards and federal law.

“To not have a program is tantamount to looking the other way,” commission chair Steven Mach said Thursday after the agency listed health concerns for obese officers. “It’s our obligation to the people of the department to have such a program and to assist people to live the healthiest life possible.”

The policy, which could ultimately remove from duty officers who have a waist circumference larger than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men, spurred the DPS officers’ association to file a lawsuit in Travis County last week. The association argued in the filing that the physical fitness tests, not waist size, determine if officers can perform their job. It asked for the judge to rule that the policy violates state law that requires physical standards “must directly relate to the officer’s job duties.”

The waistline policy stems from a “holistic look” at officer health, DPS Deputy Director Skylor Hearn said after the hearing. He and other agency officials have cited high rates of heart attacks and obesity among law enforcement officers in general. A doctor testified Thursday that waist size is a definite indicator for risk of heart disease.

“We’re not saying we shouldn’t take better care of ourselves,” DPSOA President Richard Jankovsky said outside the DPS building Thursday, expressing his support for a heart health program without consequences based on size. “But I don’t think you heard one word in there of a direct correlation of not being able to be a state trooper if you’re over that certain [size].”

Another doctor who testified acknowledged some measures of obesity, like body mass index calculations comparing only weight and height, are faulty for different body types, but said waist measurements are consistent with scientific standards relating to an officer having a commanding presence. DPS calls the waist measurement policy its “command presence” policy, claiming officers are more intimidating to potential criminals when they appear fit. An association has called it a “vanity” policy.

Though the agency is using waistline and body fat standards similarly in place in U.S. military services, Hearn said he was unaware if any other state or local law enforcement agency uses waist measurements as an indicator of job readiness.

According to one association representative, that’s because such a measurement is “idiotic.”

“Waistlines are rarely ever used for any kind of measure for physical fitness because it isn’t the 1950s anymore,” Joe Gamaldi, vice president of the national Fraternal Order of Police, said Wednesday. Gamaldi is also the president of the Houston police association.

DPS has been publicly discussing the policy since last year. In a commission hearing last October, Hearn outlined the proposed plan, which was then adopted by commissioners in February. Thursday, the commissioners again adopted the full fitness program, including the waist measurements, under a new state law to require DPS fitness programs to be scientifically sound and in line with federal employment and labor laws.

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, added the language to an agency bill earlier this year after hearing concerns over the policy that was to begin in September, he said Wednesday. He argued the new policy goes against both the intent and plain writing of his statute, arguing waistline size is arbitrary and subjective.

“I totally support DPS for the troopers to be physically fit,” he said. “But the waistline, the size of the waistline really stands out.”

Since 2007, state law has required DPS officers to undergo and pass regular fitness tests to stay in uniformed positions. Officers are tested at least once a year. The agency implemented standards and tests of fitness, like a timed 1.5 mile run, and an alternative test of specific job-related tasks, like jumping fences, with the help of a fitness training consultant group that same year.

But in the years since, DPS has put the tests and the standards through a continuous “evolution,” Hearn said in the hearing last year. At first, the test included various runs, bench presses, push-ups, sit-ups and a vertical jump. By 2017, the original test was cut to just the 1.5 mile run, push-ups and sit-ups. New types of fitness tests, like rowing, were added for officers to choose from and performance standards were raised.

The association said these changes were made without any consultant, as is required by law, and it was unknown how the decisions were made to keep tweaking the way they determine an officer’s physical readiness for the job. Now, the agency has added the waist size policy to its physical readiness measurements as well — again without a consultant, the association claimed in the filing last week.

“I have to be really clear: DPSOA is 100% supportive of a physical fitness program and a physical fitness standard, we’re just asking the agency to follow the statute,” Jankovsky told The Texas Tribune before the hearing Wednesday.

On Thursday, the department laid out its work, presenting sources (doctors’ research and testimony, federal law enforcement training groups) used to come up with both the changes to its physical fitness tests and how it decided to measure waist circumference for physical readiness. Leaders of the agency’s Fitness Wellness Unit presented an exhausting list of facts and reports and had multiple doctors speak in support of the program during the hours-long meeting in front of the commissioners.

When first presenting the controversial policy last year, Hearn mentioned officer health and safety was key. He said law enforcement officers have a much shorter life span than most people and are much more likely to have heart attacks. Protective services, he said, is the third most obese profession behind truck driving and material moving.

“A physical program that is effective is not just an exercise program,” he told commissioners Thursday. “A physical fitness program looks at all the factors that affect job duties, and that’s where the command presence piece comes into this.”

The agency has cited a 2007 FBI study that interviewed inmates who had assaulted officers and said they were more likely to attack an officer if they felt they could overpower them. Hearn said last year that having a “command presence” is the best de-escalation method, because an officer’s fit appearance can prevent escalation in the first place.

The policy also has some fallback measures in place to not unjustly affect some officers based on body type, Hearn said. If an officer’s waist measurement is beyond the 35 or 40 inches, a second test is performed to measure height against weight, using a military chart. If the officer still isn’t in compliance under that test, the agency will measure the officer’s body fat by measuring different parts of the body, again using a military method.

The agency said Thursday noncompliance with all of the new measurements will not lead to any consequences for officers in the first year. The agency’s Fitness and Wellness Unit will come up with personalized wellness plans to help officers get into compliance. Starting late next year, however, those out of compliance may become ineligible for promotions, overtime or off-duty employment. Officers may also be moved to non-uniformed positions until they meet the waistline standard, Hearn said in previous hearings.

“We are always needing help in our driver’s license offices,” Hearn said at the hearing last year.

There will be waivers and exceptions for those with certain medical conditions, like effects of cancer treatment, and officers who are pregnant or new mothers, Hearn said. He said the policy is not to run officers off, but to keep them healthy. Jankovsky said he was encouraged by those additions to the policy, which would exempt women for 12 months after they gave birth.

But overall, the association president still believes the policy goes against state and federal statute, and the association will move forward with the lawsuit.

“When you implement a standard to where it mandates you look a certain way, well then we’ve got some questions,” he said. “Is that compliant with state law, federal law, employment law?… Ultimately a judge is going to be a decider.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at


Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.



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