LAMPASAS — “First of all, let me welcome everyone to my first town hall that I’ve ever held as an elected official.”
Those were the first words spoken by District 54 state Rep. Brad Buckley on Thursday night.
Buckley, a Killeen veterinarian who lives in Salado, ran as a Republican and was elected to the Texas Legislature in November, with Lampasas County voters giving him his victory margin over Democrat Kathy Richerson of rural Bell County.
About 60 people filled a small room at the Annex to hear Buckley talk about his first month in the Legislature.
Before the event, Buckley the first month has been busy, looking at proposed legislation and filing some of his own.
“I think the best thing I did was hiring a great staff ... that really helped to keep me connected to not only the issues in Austin but, more importantly, to the constituents.”
Buckley campaigned on a promise of bringing reform and transparency to the state’s property tax system. He said House Bill and Senate Bill 2 are “a great starting point” to begin discussion of both reform and relief in the state’s property tax system.
“(It’s) an important step to providing improvements to the appraisal process, to allowing voters to have more of a say in increases in property taxes.”
Buckley said he feels the state must increase the amount it pays to fund state education to help reduce the property tax burden.
He said some lawmakers want to add $9 billion to the state education budget during this session. But Buckley said that amount would only get the state to funding just over 40 percent of the education budget rather than an even split. He also said lawmakers still need to determine if such an increase in state education is sustainable in the long run.
One of the first bills filed by Buckley deals with getting more state reimbursement to reduce the effect of a state-mandated property tax exemption for disabled veterans.
Killeen officials said last year that the city was losing more than $5 million in annual tax revenue due to the exemption and were only getting back about $1.2 million from the state.
Buckley has filed House Bill 634, which would allow communities like Harker Heights — which does not receive any reimbursement since it doesn’t border Fort Hood — to qualify for reimbursement.
He said he’s working with the governor’s office on a plan that would “fully fund communities heavily impacted by this exemption.”
Among other bills he is working on, Buckley said he hopes to bring more fairness to the eminent domain process that allows private companies to take land from property owners.
A bill he’s supporting would try to keep those companies from giving inadequate compensation to landowners and would require them to say exactly what would be built or buried on that land.
Lampasas County Democratic Party Chair Cindy Burleson got in the first questions for Buckley, asking about eminent domain, sales taxes, and broadband internet expansion.
Burleson said she’d be in favor of paying “no taxes at all,” drawing a laugh and quick agreement from Buckley. But she also asked if increasing state sales taxes on some items might increase the burden on low-income and fixed-income people.
Buckley said some of the examples he may have used may not have been the best to emphasize his point.
“Property taxes are a pretty inefficient means of funding government,” Buckley said. “Anything I think we can do to find alternate revenue sources to me makes a lot of sense.”
Burleson said after the meeting that she was looking for more specific answers from Buckley, but that she was glad he took the time to come to Lampasas and meet with constituents.