South Texas College is silent on two bills filed by state Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Palmview, that would give voters more say on the institution’s taxing capabilities and the amount of time elected trustees serve on its board.
According to Muñoz’s office, STC — which taxes residents in Hidalgo and Starr counties — can currently increase its maintenance and operations tax rate up to 8% yearly without a public vote.
HB 3120 would lower the threshold rate triggering a voter election from 8% to 3% to “ensure taxpayer oversight of any significant potential increases in M&O taxes.”
HB 1816 would change term lengths for STC’s governing board from six years to two years, which, his office says, would “give taxpayers more oversight of the taxing entity.”
Muñoz told The Monitor Tuesday that he filed both bills in response to concerns from constituents. He said he doesn’t see the legislation as a curtailment of the college’s authority; the bills, he said, would simply put it on par with similar institutions in the state.
“All we’re trying to do is bring about information and transparency, because those concerns are brought to our office …” Muñoz said. “We’ve always enjoyed a very good relationship with the college, but what is wrong with putting the terms in line with other elected positions? The M&O rate too — nobody’s asking to do away with their taxing authority, although I do have constituents that would like us to do that.
“All we’re doing is bringing the rate down to 2 1/2 or 3 1/2%, which is in line with other governmental bodies since last session.”
STC did not Tuesday ride to its own defense. The college declined to comment on the potential legislation, which could significantly impact the way it functions financially and force its trustees to run for office three times as often.
“We just do not comment on pending legislation,” Executive Director of Public Relations & Marketing Lynda Lopez said. “We just do not comment on something that may or may not happen. Period.”
Entities do, however, regularly comment on legislation that could significantly impact their operations.
We’ve always enjoyed a very good relationship with the college, but what is wrong with putting the terms in line with other elected positions? The M&O rate too — nobody’s asking to do away with their taxing authority, although I do have constituents that would like us to do that.
Muñoz emphasized Tuesday that his bills are not intended as an attack; he said he was open to discussion with the college and that there was wiggle room regarding the specifics.
He did say he failed to see why — in his opinion — STC trustees hold office for an abnormally long period of time.
“What’s wrong with having them run and hold office like the majority of people in elected positions?” he said. “We have two-year terms. Most people have four. Nobody has told me why you need to have six years and why it’d be such a hardship to reduce it to two or to four.”
Muñoz has emerged this session as an active supporter of legislation impacting some of the Rio Grande Valley’s less-traditional taxing educational entities.
Legislation he filed regarding South Texas Independent School District’s taxing authority responded to concerns voiced by other districts that that district is being inequitably funded.
Throughout that saga, Muñoz has noted the importance of having a conversation on reform, saying it’s important for transparency and accountability. He reiterated those points about his STC legislation.
“People want to know how their tax money is being spent, and they want to have more of a voice in doing so,” he said. “It gives them more information.”
To find a comprehensive list of bills filed — and the status of those bills — visit MyRGV.com and click the 88th Texas Legislative Session tab, which has an interactive spreadsheet and a comprehensive list of AIM Media Texas’ legislative coverage.