Texas State Representative Ken King (R-District 88) held a town hall meeting in Perryton on Wednesday afternoon at the Perryton Club.
The meeting was attended by about 50 Perryton residents.
King opened the meeting with a reminder that redistricting in the state was a perpetually important issue, especially in the rural Panhandle.
“The reason redistricting is such a big deal for us is because redistricting is all based on population,” King said. “The map requires each house district to have a minimum of 160,000 people. The closest census estimates I see say District 88 is going to have to grow to 200,000 – but we’ve lost 15,000 residents since I was first elected. That means we’re going to grow to 22 counties, 25 counties. What it really means is the part of the state west of I-35 is going to lose two seats to the I-35 corridor. I’d like to try to minimize that two-seat loss to one seat.”
King also said he felt coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic was largely political.
“I will submit to you that on November 3, COVID-19 is still going to be a thing,” King said. “But regardless of who wins, on November 3, we’re going to quit talking about it as much. The politicization of it will die down a lot.”
King also expressed doubts about the efficacy and legality of masks.
“I’m not going to wear a mask if the governor told me to,” said King. “The governor cannot police that. We’ve already established that his executive orders are not constitutional. Your law enforcement in Perryton isn’t running around issuing tickets over this. Neither is anyone else. So my rule of thumb is if there’s a sign on the door, I’ll put on a mask. If there’s not a sign on the door, I don’t wear it. And frankly, I try to spend more time with my horses and my cows than with the pandemic these days.”
King also said he thought getting the economy back in action was more important than the pandemic.
“If we don’t get a grip as a nation and get our economy back going, we’re all going to look up and say, man, the cure was a hell of a lot worse than that disease. This economy is on its knees in every sector, and we have to get a grip as a state and as a nation and go back to work.”
King also discussed education financing, emphasizing that oil and gas taxes are vital to funding education, but shouldn’t be the sole revenue source.
“Right now, we fund it all on the back of oil and gas,” King said. “And everybody in this room knows how oil and gas is going right now. And it’s not just here – it’s the same in the Permian and everywhere else. So we’re going to be scrounging for dollars. I have a bill right now – I tried to pass it last session – I want to put a fee on wind, nuclear, solar, and coal. Those four energy producers produce more electricity in the State of Texas than natural gas. Those four energy producers pay nothing, but they’re heavily subsidized. The comptroller and I spent about a year developing a plan to basically put one cent on a kilowatt-hour that’s produced by those producers. And one cent per kilowatt-hour – which isn’t even a fraction of what oil and gas producers pay in severance tax, would yield about $1.2 billion annually.”
King was asked if the governor would mandate vaccines, and he replied he definitely would not.
“Will the governor mandate it? Absolutely not,” said King. “Will half the population refuse to take it? I think that’s probably likely.”
King was also asked if allowing schools to ask students to sign waivers before attending classes would enable students to go to schools safely.
“The State of Texas is sovereign, and you can’t sue the state,” King said. “But you can sue Perryton ISD. Any lawyer will tell you those waivers aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. If you signed a waiver for a youth football league – well, you can’t get blood out of a turnip. But you can get a pretty good payday out of a school district if Little Johnny gets sick.”
King was asked what he expected from the next legislative session as far as new revenue sources.
“I think you’re going to see an increase in the sales tax being a big thing in the next session,” said King. “If I told you we’re going to increase sales tax across the board by one penny, and that sales tax is going to be dedicated to our largest consumer of tax dollars – public education, and we’re going to completely fund public education for the next 25 years at a level of 51 percent or above, but your property taxes could decrease by about five percent – I don’t know anyone who’d vote against that.”
King was also asked about the possibility of using the Rainy Day Fund to help ensure funding for schools or other necessary projects during the economic crisis. He said that the Rainy Day Fund can and should be used if necessary, but warned that state laws required that the Fund could only be used in certain specific ways.
“You have to be careful with the Rainy Day Fund,” King said. “The Rainy Day Fund really didn’t have a heck of a lot in it in the ‘90s and then all of a sudden, it capped out at $12 billion. Anything that busts the cap flows straight into general revenue, which means people like me get to spend it without asking you. That’s against the Texas Constitution. Texas still requires your legislators to ask before we create a new funding source or spend money, and we still have a balance budget amendment. Having billions of dollars flowing into general revenue that the taxpayer doesn’t know about, that’s over-taxation without representation.”
King added that spending money from the Rainy Day Fund is actually important, both to keep it from going over the cap and to improve the state’s infrastructure.
“I’m a big proponent of spending Rainy Day money,” said King. “I want it spent down below the cap. Well, the thought has always been, I’ve been told over and over, if we spend that money, we’ll lose our AAA investment rating. Well, first, I don’t buy it, because back in 2001, the legislature did it. They broke it, they spent every penny of it. And we didn’t lose our bond rating.”
“And second, our comptroller, Glenn Hegar, tells this story,” King added. “When he talks to these lenders that lend us the money to pay for our budget every cycle – increasingly, they tell him you better start spending some money on your infrastructure, or you’re not going to be AAA. See, they don’t care how much money you have in the bank. They want to know what they’re investing in. So if we’re hoarding billions of dollars, and we’re not investing in our roads and our bridges and our schools and our courthouses and our hospitals, they don’t want to invest in us. So spending the money is exactly what we need to do.”