Amarillo's Ginger Nelson, other Big City Mayors announce legislative priorities

Mayors of Texas’ largest cities announced their legislative priorities last week. The group plans to urge hundreds of millions in funding from the state for multiple programs like mental health services and broadband expansion while emphasizing their desire for local control.

Big City Mayors (BCM) describes itself as a “bipartisan coalition of mayors from Texas’ most populous cities, representing nearly one third of the state’s residents,” but mayoral races in Texas are nonpartisan.

It includes mayors of the 18 largest cities in Texas. Nine of those were part of the legislative agenda press conference on Friday, January 13. Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson is a member of this group.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg chairs the coalition. He began the press conference by emphasizing the priority of local control saying, “We undoubtedly will be opposing legislation that would erode that local authority.”

Mayor George Fuller of McKinney argued that the last few legislative sessions have “seen a degradation in the working relationship between the state and cities.”

Hinting at Gov. Greg Abbott’s declarations that prohibited local governments from imposing certain COVID-19 restrictions like mask mandates, Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez also emphasized his desire for local control. “The City of Brownsville struggled with some of the decisions that were being made and the inability for us to make our own decisions during COVID.”

Abbott’s declarations never forbade any individual from wearing a mask for his or her own protection.

Arlington Mayor Jim Ross urged the state to adopt gun control. “We need to have legitimate gun control enacted in this state,” he said, citing his concern that Arlington’s entertainment district might fall victim to a mass shooting as happened in Las Vegas in 2017.

Nirenberg pointed to a letter issued by BCM last summer after the tragic shooting in Uvalde that advocated for measures like “red flag” laws, universal background checks, and increasing the age to purchase an assault weapon.

Several of the mayors advocated for state grants for broadband funding along with increased education funding, including early childhood.

“Broadband is a basic right,” Nelson stated during the press conference. The Mayors’ agenda is to support Texas cities’ ability to participate in the state’s broadband grant programs and partner with the private sector to expand broadband connectivity in their communities.

Sylvester Turner, who served as a Democrat in the Texas Legislature before being elected as Houston’s mayor, urged the Legislature to make a “transformative investment in mental health services,” clarifying that he means hundreds of millions of dollars.

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker acknowledged her idea to be provocative, but said, “I want Texas to be known as a state that takes care of families — women and children in particular — first. What if we piloted the first paid family leave program in Texas?”

Several mayors advocated for increased state funding for education, including in the early childhood years.

Nelson emphasized the mayors’ desire to see the continuation of Local 380 incentive agreements that she said are critical to attracting businesses to Texas cities. This might be of particular concern due to the expiration of Chapter 313 property tax abatement agreements at the end of 2022.

Under a Chapter 380 agreement, a developer and taxing body negotiate a contract to provide sales tax incentives in return for the project meeting performance benchmarks. The agreement should help the business offset some costs associated with construction and infrastructure. Projects will be evaluated individually.

None of the mayors mentioned border security issues, including Mendez, who governs Brownsville, the southernmost city in Texas and a border city to Mexico.

Members of BCM claim to represent their communities and want to “improve the lives of all Texans.” Cities often pay lobbyists to advocate for their legislative priorities. For instance, the city of Houston has paid over $1.3 million for lobbyists’ efforts on its behalf in Austin, according to Transparency USA.

Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) has filed legislation again this session to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying. Previous proposals have been killed by Mayes’ Republican colleagues, even though 94 percent of Texas Republicans supported such measures in a primary 2020 ballot proposition vote.

Below is BCM's 88th State Legislative Agenda:

Local Governance

Support legislation that would protect community-based decision making to ensure communities and residents receive the highest quality and efficient services from local governments. 

Oppose legislation that would diminish the fundamental authority of cities to operate in a manner that addresses the priorities and unique needs of our communities. 

Oppose legislation that restricts or limits the ability of cities to advocate on behalf of their residents or on issues impacting city operations and services.   

Property Tax Relief

Support legislation to provide meaningful property tax relief to Texas residents.

Economic Development

Support the continuation of local and state incentives to supplement local economic development strategies to recruit and retain employers.

Workforce & Education

Support legislation that provides adequate state funding for the public school finance system from early childhood to higher education.

Public Health & Violence Prevention

Support common sense firearm regulations and additional resources to help mitigate gun violence in our communities.

Support legislation that expands state funding and access to mental health services.

Broadband Infrastructure 

Support legislation that improves access to broadband connectivity in underserved areas through infrastructure and increased affordability.  

Support the ability of all cities in Texas to participate in the Texas Broadband grant programs including the ability to partner with the private sector to expand broadband connectivity in their communities.

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