Tax exemption extended for two years
Gov. Rick Perry on July 19 kept his word to prevent a tax increase for thousands of small businesses when he signed into law a budget-related bill that the Legislature passed during the June special session.
Some background: In 2006, legislators revamped the state's corporate franchise tax to help pay for a statewide reduction in local school property taxes. Before the changes, the business levy was essentially a 4.5 percent tax on a company's profit. For the new tax, often called the margins tax, lawmakers reduced the rate to 1 percent while broadening its application. The tax is now applied to the annual revenue of qualifying companies minus one of three options: the cost of goods sold, the cost of employee compensation or 30 percent of total revenue.
As passed in 2006, companies with revenues of $300,000 or less were exempt from the tax. In 2009, after small businesses complained that they were unfairly burdened by the tax, lawmakers raised the exemption threshold to $1 million for 2010 and 2011. That change left more than 130,000 businesses exempt, including almost 40,000 that had to pay the tax in 2008 and 2009, according to the August 2009 issue of Fiscal Notes, a publication of the state comptroller's office.
Without this year's action, the $1 million exemption threshold would have fallen to $600,000 at the end of 2011. According to an April 11 Texas Tribune article, the head of the Texas chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, which lobbies on behalf of small businesses, told a House committee that if that happened, nearly 28,000 businesses would lose their exemption and be added to the tax roll.
During the regular legislative session, lawmakers filed multiple bills to maintain the $1 million exemption threshold. As of April, though, lawmakers were still trying to figure out how to replace the revenue that would be lost if that happened, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, told the Austin American-Statesman for an April 11 story.
On May 21, nine days before the end of the regular session, Hilderbran proposed — and the House agreed to — adding a two-year extension of the $1 million exemption in Senate Bill 1811, a budget-related bill. But a Democratic filibuster in the Senate kept that legislation from surviving.
In the special session, backers of the extension proposal revived it by tucking it into SB 1, which was must-pass budget-related legislation.
According to a Legislative Budget Board analysis, the extension of the exemption will cost the state about $150 million in revenue during the 2012-13 biennium. Hilderbran told us in an interview that other provisions in Senate Bill 1 offset the loss of revenue.
A governor's office list of Perry's "accomplishments" during the 2011 legislative session says: "The governor kept his promise in 2009 to reform the small business tax, reducing taxes for 40,000 small businesses. This session, he successfully fought to extend those cuts until 2014."
But in an entry on his campaign blog posted Sept. 29, 2009, months after that year's legislative session had ended, Perry pledged to make the $1 million exemption permanent, not simply extend it for two years.
We rate this promise a Compromise.
Gov. Rick Perry, press release, "Legislative accomplishments keep Texas on Path to Prosperity," July 19, 2011
Texas Legislature Online, Senate Bill 1, 82nd Legislature, special session
Austin American-Statesman, "Report: State business tax falling short of expectations," Nov. 3, 2010
Texas House Research Organization, "Schools and Taxes: A Summary of Legislation of the 2006 Special Session," May 25, 2006
Austin American-Statesman, "State's small businesses call for tax changes," May 16, 2008
Texas Legislature Online, House Bill 4765, 81st regular session
Texas state comptroller's office, Fiscal Notes, August 2009
Texas Tribune, "Texas panel considers making $1M exemption permanent," April 11, 2011
Austin American-Statesman, "Small businesses lobby to keep margins tax exemption," April 11, 2011
Texas Legislature Online, Senate Bill 1811, 82nd regular session
Austin American-Statesman, "In a tight-money session, business interests mostly did fine," May 30, 2011
Legislative Budget Board, fiscal note for Senate Bill 1, 82nd Legislature, special session
Interview with Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, July 14, 2011
Gov. Rick Perry's office, "2011 Session Accomplishments"
Gov. Rick Perry's campaign website, "Talkin' Texas," Sept. 29, 2009
Legislation filed to make tax cut permanent
In a Sept. 29, 2009, video posted on his campaign website, Gov. Rick Perry bragged about the state's economy, saying that Texas "is exerting a magnetic pull on jobs, investment and people who want to live free" and calling the state "a safe harbor to this economic storm."
The text introducing the video says that Perry also "offered several new proposals to maintain Texas" positive momentum," including "making permanent the recent tax cut extended to 40,000 small businesses in the last legislative session."
That refers to a bill Perry signed June 16, 2009, increasing the number of businesses that are exempt from paying the state's franchise tax. Previously, companies with less than $300,000 in annual revenue did not have to pay. The 2009 measure raised that threshold to $1 million, exempting more than 130,000 businesses, including almost 40,000 that had to pay the tax in 2008 and 2009, according to the August 2009 issue of Fiscal Notes, a publication of the state comptroller's office.
Under current law, that exemption threshold will drop to $600,000 on Jan. 1, 2012, according to a 2009 House Research Organization report, making more businesses subject to the tax.
However, some lawmakers want to prevent that from happening. On Nov. 8, 2010, GOP state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston filed a proposal to make the $1 million exemption permanent.
Over in the House, Carolyn Saegert, clerk of the Ways and Means Committee, told us that at least seven similar bills are pending, including House Bill 262, filed March 9 by Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville. In a March 11 press release, Hilderbran said, "Texas continues to outperform its neighbors because of strong, proven economic policies such as the franchise tax exemption for small businesses. Establishing this exemption as one that is permanent will help keep Texas at the top."
Hilderbran, who leads the House Ways and Means Committee, told the Austin American-Statesman for a March 24 story that many lawmakers want to make the exemption permanent but they have to find a way to replace the lost revenue, amounting to about $75 million a year.
We rate this promise In the Works.
Gov. Rick Perry's campaign website, "Talkin' Texas,” Sept. 29, 2009
Gov. Rick Perry's office, news release, "Gov. Perry Signs Legislation to Cut Taxes for Texas Small Business Owners," June, 16, 2009
Texas state comptroller's office, Fiscal Notes, August 2009
House Research Organization, "Major Issues of the 81st Legislature," Sept. 30, 2009
Sen. Dan Patrick's office, news release, "Senator Dan Patrick Files Conservative Agenda," Nov. 8, 2010
Texas Legislature Online, Senate Bill 125, by Sen. Dan Patrick
Interview with Carolyn Saegert, clerk, Texas House Ways and Means Committee, March 23, 2011
Texas Legislature Online, House Bill 262, by Rep. Harvey Hilderbran
Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, press release, "Hilderbran legislation exempts small businesses from franchise tax," March 11, 2011