On Tuesday, Mike Rawlings finally got a meeting with Gov. Greg Abbott. After the meeting, Dallas' mayor said that are many areas in which he disagrees with the governor, but he was encouraged by the focus Abbott put on poverty in southern Dallas and reforming the state's public education system.
Two weeks ago, 18 Texas mayors sent Abbott a letter expressing concerns about the governor's proposed agenda for the ongoing first special session of the 85th Legislature. The mayors, including Rawlings, Fort Worth's Betsy Price and Plano's Harry LaRosiliere, asked the governor for a meeting to discuss the state's proposed bathroom bill, property tax reforms and caps on municipal spending. Texas is seeking to resolve each of these issues outside of local control, a troubling trend for these mayors.
When Abbott responded to the mayors' demand to meet, he conspicuously left the leaders of Texas' five biggest cities — Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth — off the list. After Abbott's snub began to pick up media attention, the governor scheduled Tuesday's meeting with Rawlings and Price.
Rawlings said he wanted to make sure the governor knows how important North Texas and the city of Dallas are to the state. "The Dallas miracle is amazing," Rawlings said. "We do not want to slow that up. We've got to be very careful."
The mayor emphasized that he disagrees with property tax reforms being pushed by Abbott and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Bills being discussed by the legislature would lower the rate at which municipalities could set property tax rates without triggering an election requiring voters to approve those rates. Rawlings said that decreasing the so-called rollback rate would threaten the city of Dallas.
"We can have a constitutional debate about all this stuff, but to me it's practical," Rawlings said. "How do we make sure we can hire enough police officers? We've got to hire a lot of police officers in Dallas. Any sort of a rollback is going to impact that. We've got to save a pension fund. We've got to factor those things in."
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Rawlings said that the state government should instead be focused on school finance reform. During the regular legislative session, bills that would've simplified the state's archaic school funding formulas and inject much-needed cash into Texas' public schools died when the House and Senate couldn't reconcile their competing versions of the bill. House leaders blamed its death on the Senate, which added a school choice program that many viewed as a poison pill to the bill.
"He wants to do tax reform, but we need to deal with public school tax reform and financing," Rawlings said of the governor. "That's the big issue here and we're playing around the edges from a perceptual standpoint, from a symbolic standpoint ... but we've got to ramp up [education spending]."
Rawlings said that he didn't discuss the bathroom bill, which he strongly opposes, with the governor. "He knows how I feel about that, and I know how he feels about it. We've met before on this issue," Rawlings said. "We tried to say, 'How do you use our time fruitfully and use our partnership to do what's right by the citizens?"