McALLEN, RGV – Members of the McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party Association say they are deeply disappointed Governor Greg Abbott will not veto a bill they rallied and testified against during the recent legislative session.

Speaking on News Talk 710 KURV on Thursday morning, Abbott said it was decision for local voters whether taxing healthcare districts in Cameron and Hidalgo counties are set up. The legislation that has local Tea Party members upset is House Bill 1596, authored by state Rep. R.D. ‘Bobby’ Guerra, a McAllen Democrat. The bill is sitting on Abbott’s desk awaiting signature.

Fern McClaugherty
Fern McClaugherty

“I did not hear Governor Abbott on the radio and I do not think I want to hear from him again. I am so upset,” said Fern McClaugherty, a member of both the McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party Association and Objective Watchers of Legal System (OWLS), a grassroots watchdog group.

“If Governor Abbott was the champion of the Tea Party he would not sign House Bill 1596 into law. He would veto it.”

McClaugherty said a petition started by McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party in opposition to more taxes in Hidalgo County has so far garnered 850-plus signatures. She said when the petition was presented at Hidalgo County Commissioners Court last Tuesday a further 26 people in the audience signed it.

“We have momentum with this petition. We wanted to present it to the Governor in person. We were all ready to go up there, Virginia Townsend, Mission Mayor Beto Salinas, myself, to drive to Austin. All the OWLS, the Tea Party, we were already to go to see the Governor. But, we could not get anywhere. He did not want to hear from us. I have never been so upset and so hurt. I am livid.”

This is what Abbott said on KURV:

“Here’s the deal about it. This is what we call a local piece of legislation that affects the Rio Grande Valley. One thing we know about the Rio Grande Valley is that it does have some challenges with regard to access to healthcare. This is a way of providing greater access to healthcare but I think it does so in the right approach.

“It is going to be the people of the Rio Grande Valley who get to decide whether or not that it is going to take place. It will cause an increase in the tax burden for the people of the Rio Grande Valley and that is something they have the right to make a decision on. That is the way democracy works. So, I think it is the right approach to allow the people of the RGV to decide whether or not they want to spend money to create this hospital district.”

Sergio Sanchez, a presenter on KURV’s Morning News show, then made this point to Abbott: “Some fiscal conservatives would say you have the power to put the kibosh on this plan in an area that is already poor and should not be taxed anymore.” Abbott replied: “As opposed to me vetoing it I think that I should allow the citizens of the Rio Grande Valley to veto it, if that is what they want to do or support it, if that is what they want to do.”

Guerra has said HB 1596 was crafted in response from voters who wanted stronger safeguards put in place before moving forward with the creation of a healthcare district in Hidalgo County. When a referendum was held last November on setting up a hospital district in Hidalgo County voters narrowly rejected the idea. At that time the cap was 75 cents per $100 property valuation. Guerra’s bill caps the tax rate a healthcare district can levy at to no more than 25 cents per $100 property valuation.

“The Healthcare District is a solution for inadequate access to healthcare in Hidalgo County. It’s a fact that we have some of the highest rates of uninsured individuals and amongst the worst health care outcomes in the nation. HB 1596 would provide Hidalgo County with the proper sanctions it needs to improve on indigent care, as well as leverage and draw down additional federal funds to address health disparities,” Guerra said, when his legislation passed out of the House Committee on County Affairs.

The Senate sponsor of Guerra’s bill was state Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen. Laying out the bill at a Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations hearing, Hinojosa said HB 1596 includes a “tax swap.”

Hinojosa said county property taxes will be reduced if a healthcare district is approved by voters because Hidalgo County will no longer be responsible for indigent care. Responsibility for indigent care would rest with the healthcare district, he said.

This is the provision in HB 1596 that Hinojosa was referring to:

Sec. 1122.2525. REDUCTION IN AD VALOREM TAX RATE BY COUNTY.  The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, in determining the county ad valorem tax rate for the first year in which the district imposes ad valorem taxes on property in the district, shall:
(1)  take into account the decrease in the amount the county will spend for health care purposes in that year because the district is providing health care services previously provided or paid for by the county; and
(2)  reduce the county’s ad valorem tax rate in accordance with the decreased amount of required spending described by Subdivision.

Jim Barnes
Jim Barnes

Jim Barnes, president of the McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party Association, testified against HB 1596 at the state Capitol. Barnes was not persuasive. The bill passed out of the House by a vote of 134 to 11 and out of the Senate by a unanimous vote.

“We only did the petition on Facebook. I am sure that if we had hit the streets we would have several thousand signatures by now. We thought the Governor would have been interested in that; evidently not. Once or twice a week we were sending stuff up to his office,” Barnes said.

“If the Governor signs the bill or allows it to become law without his signature, we will have a fight on our hands again. We are just going to have to get people educated on what it is going to do to their taxes and what it is going to do to the size of our government here in Hidalgo County. There are people here who are already complaining about their taxes going to high. I think the recent McAllen ISD bond issue shows people are a little tired of increased taxes,” Barnes added.