HD 47, located on the west side of Austin/Travis County, is one of those races.
The winner of the GOP primary will face freshman incumbent Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin). The five candidates are police officer, and vice president of the Austin Police Association, Justin Berry; attorney Jennifer Fleck; attorney Jennifer Roan Forgey; former Marine and lawyer Aaron Reitz; and former Austin city councilman Don Zimmerman.
Below, each candidate lists their top three policy priorities should they be elected — with an additional one or two here and there for good measure.
- Fix homeless problem
- Cutting property taxes, reforming appraisal system
- Build an East-West highway
Being an Austin police officer, the city’s homeless problem has been up close and personal to him. He calls it an “epidemic.”
“Other states have already seen these homeless camps come down with diseases we thought were gone from the US. Heaven help us if a coronavirus gets loose in those communities,” he added.
“This is NOT normal and never has been. This is something we can stop.”
After the property tax reform enacted by the 86th Legislature, the discussion persists on further addressing Texas’ property tax system. Berry wants to bring the state back down to its historical average contribution to the education fund. “The state needs to step up before paying property taxes becomes a crisis,” Berry stressed.
The state spent $11.6 billion this past session increasing its education spending and buying down local government property taxes — or its share of the education budget.
Traffic remains a significant concern for Travis County residents. Berry wants to see a new highway built to release pressure on highways 360, 620, and 2222.
“The plans exist, but the bureaucracy just will not get moving,” he emphasized. Specifically, Berry wants to target school traffic, diverting it to new pathways and thus lightening the load everywhere else.
“The delays cost money, they hurt businesses but most of all they take huge parts of our lives away that we could have spent with family and friends. It is an invisible theft that must be ended,” he stated.
Berry concluded, saying, “The three problems have a lot in common. They are all driven by Democrats taking local office, then substituting hyper-partisan out-of-touch policy ideas that do not work.”
Jenny Roan Forgey
- Rein-in spending and lower property taxes
- Facilitate a stronger, pro-business economy
- Institute a world-class education for Texas students
Texas’ property tax saga has been well-documented and was the focus of the 86th Legislature. But it hasn’t stopped there. In response to the caps instituted by the legislature, local governments have scrambled to squeeze in a last-minute increase before they’re limited. In fact, Travis County and the City of Austin each increased their property taxes eight percent from last year’s rate.
Forgey told The Texan, “I will work on reining in spending, changing how homes are valued, and ensuring transparency in our appraisal system from day one at the Legislature.”
The other aspect of the property tax debate, which Forgey mentioned, is the appraisal side.
Rising appraisals have created a situation where even if the tax rate for a given property is not increased, the tax bill often increases from year-to-year.
Regarding her second priority, Forgey says her focus is on government regulations imposed on businesses. “By focusing on simplifying regs and keeping taxes as low as possible, I’ll champion the hard-working men and women of Central Texas,” she stated.
Forgey also identified the shrinking education budgets as a point of concern for her.
She said, “Western Travis County is home to some of Texas’ best schools. This ever-expanding population will need a strong voice representing families, students, teachers and administrators.”
This past session, HB 3 increased the state’s education funding by $6.5 billion.
- Pass Republican Party of Texas legislative priorities
- Protect parental rights in education and the courtroom
- Pass border security, historical monument protection, and economic development bills
Fleck’s stated top priority will be supporting the five planks of the Texas GOP: pass constitutional carry, end taxpayer-funded lobbying, pass pro-life legislation, provide property tax relief, and protect religious freedom and privacy. “I will spend more time serving the will of the people and the collective voice of the party,” she stated.
Over the last eight years, Fleck has consistently lobbied against the sex education status quo in schools. Fleck stressed, “I am very concerned with the agenda to subvert parental authority.”
Also part of that second priority, Fleck pointed to Raise the Age and Second Look legislation — raising the age of criminal jurisdiction from 17 to 18 and reducing the minimum term period required for parole eligibility, respectively.
Fleck would also like to see federal incentives “that alienate and punish non-custodial parents, which particularly harm fathers.”
Finally, Fleck wants to support bills that “protect our historical monuments and memorials like SB 1663 which would have instituted civil penalties for “removal, relocation, alteration, or construction of certain monuments or memorials located on public property.”
She also wants to support legislation that further secures Texas’ southern border and expands economic development.
- Cut regulations and trim the tax code
- Prohibit Austin-type homeless policies
- Lower barriers to school choice
Reitz sent an extensive and detailed list of policy proposals to The Texan, so we focused on the core priorities he has spoken about during the primary race.
Regarding his first priority, Reitz stated, “Government should be limited in size and scope. Regulations should be light, simple, and predictable. Taxes should be low, fair, and reasonable.”
Specifically included in this are cutting property taxes; mandating independent audits on local governments; eliminating taxpayer-funded lobbying; reform in some way the business personal property tax; and eliminating the franchise tax.
Taxpayer-funded lobbying has been a hot topic this interim, especially since its failure in the House on a point of order this past session. It will surely be one of the first bills filed when the 87th Legislature convenes in 2021.
Reitz has been quite outspoken on the City of Austin’s homelessness problem. Part of his solution is reopening psychiatric facilities for those with severe mental illnesses and drug abuse problems. He added, “It is inhumane to expect these people to fend for themselves.”
Housing has been a constant theme touched on by city officials, but not whether the mental illness aspect is compatible with housing-only options.
Additionally, he wants to see the Texas AG prioritize trafficking cases which inordinately affect the homeless population.
School choice, for Reitz, means removing barriers to families’ ability to make their own education decisions. “Families know best what kind of education their children need and should be free to move them with minimal logistical or financial barriers,” he stated.
Part of that includes “streamlin[ing] the charter school chartering process to meet families’ demands”; enforcing sex education laws and tamping down on “public schools…indoctrinate[ing] our children with inhumane, hyper-sexualized curriculums”; and reducing “administrative bloat” that diverts education funding away from the classroom.
Other policies Reitz supports are constitutional carry; preventing the hiring of illegal aliens; codifying unborn children as full “persons” within law; revamping the Texas Transportation Code; and barring minors from receiving hormone therapy or any gender-transition procedures.
- Curb out of control local government spending
- Develop a western Travis County freeway
- Prohibit “illegal” spending by local governments
“Since local governments have demonstrated an insatiable demand for more money, more stringent spending caps and controls from the State are required,” Zimmerman told The Texan.
An analysis by The Texan found that the top 50 most populated counties increased their spending by over $650 million this year. Some, however, actually limited or decreased their spending.
Zimmerman believes blaming appraisals, which local governments have pointed to when property taxes increase, as “dishonest.”
“The truth is its local government greed and inefficiency causing the taxation crisis,” he added.
An HD 47-specific issue Zimmerman wants to champion is building a freeway in Western Travis County.
Ideally, for him, it would connect SH-45 at US-183 down to SH-45 in southwest Travis County. To pay for this, Zimmerman wants to shuffle 50 percent of existing CapMetro sales tax revenue “from empty buses and trains.”
During his time as an Austin City Councilman, Zimmerman states he saw taxpayer funds “illegally” directed to certain programs — such as subsidizing abortion (over which Zimmerman sued Austin), subsidizing housing for “persons experiencing no property tax bills or rent,” and “subsidizing illegal immigration” through “immigrant services.”
“Taxpayer money is effectively laundered through partisan progressive organizations that claim to do charitable work, but in fact spend funds campaigning for unaffordable Bonds and employ partisans who contribute heavily to Democrats – who in turn vote for more Bonds and taxation to benefit more partisan non-profits,” he continued.
Zimmerman also intends to push for an audit task force overseen by the Attorney General to “investigate illegal spending of taxpayer dollars by local government.”
Additionally, he aims to co-author and support school choice bills which will “lower costs and increase the value of primary education” and facilitate offensive and defensive lawsuits against “radical anti-growth, anti-human environmental extremists.”
Tuesday’s outcome will likely trigger a run-off election between the top two vote-getters. Early voting has already begun in Texas.
Whoever emerges victorious in the primary will square off against Rep. Goodwin.
For more information, check out the overview of this race and other key state and federal races at The Texan’s War Room page.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.