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Oct 01

October 1, 2020 TML Coronavirus Update #131

Posted on October 1, 2020 at 4:36 PM by TML Staff

Urgent Updates


What action did the governor take today relating to the November 2020 election? 


Today (October 1), the governor issued a new proclamation modifying a July 27th proclamation that is the subject of ongoing litigation. The new proclamation provides that any person seeking to deliver a marked mail ballot in-person must, beginning on October 2, 2020, deliver the mail ballot at a single early voting clerk’s office location as designated by the early voting clerk. The proclamation effectively shuts down any satellite offices where voters could previously deliver marked mail ballots in-person.


Here’s the governor’s press release:  


“Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation enhancing ballot security protocols for the in-person delivery of marked mail ballots for the November 3rd Election. Under this proclamation, beginning on October 2, 2020, mail ballots that are delivered in person by voters who are eligible to vote by mail must be delivered to a single early voting clerk’s office location as publicly designated by a county’s early voting clerk. The proclamation also requires early voting clerks to allow poll watchers to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot. This proclamation amends a July 27th proclamation that extended the period in which marked mail-in ballots may be delivered in person.


‘The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,’ said Governor Abbott. ‘As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.’”


How can cities use Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) revenue to assist their school districts with the connectivity technology needed for remote learning?


Back in July, as part of the Operation Connectivity initiative, Governor Abbott announced the allocation of $200 million in state CRF funds “for the purchase of eLearning devices and home internet solutions to enable remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic for Texas students that lack connectivity.” The state’s $200 million is designed to match $200 million in funding from local school districts for Wi-Fi hotspots and personal devices.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is encouraging local school districts to reach out to their cities to use a portion of city CRF allocations to assist with local match funding. TEA has prepared this flyer to help explain the role that cities can play to fund remote learning initiatives in their communities. U.S. Department of Treasury CRF guidance indeed authorizes cities to use CRF revenue on “[e]xpenses of actions to facilitate compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures, such as…[e]xpenses to facilitate distance learning, including technological improvements, in connection with school closings to enable compliance with COVID-19 precautions.”


One caveat bears mentioning. Cities that receive their CRF allocations through the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) must comply with the terms and conditions document limiting the use of those funds in a way that is more stringent than federal guidelines. More specifically, TDEM requires at least 75 percent of a city’s allotment be spent on the following three categories: (1) medical expenses; (2) public health expenses; and (3) payroll expenses for employees substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the public emergency. Funding to facilitate remote learning does not fit any of these categories. Instead, it fits within the group of authorized expenditures for which a city may only use up to 25 percent of its allotment of CRF money. In other words, cities receiving their CRF allocations through TDEM are restricted in how much can be used to support remote learning.


Yesterday, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) sent this letter to Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, asking her to work with other state leaders to eliminate TDEM’s 75 percent limitation so that local governments can gain the flexibility to assist their local school districts and students.


City officials in cities that are limited by the 75 percent restriction are encouraged to continue working with their state officials to lessen restrictions on use of CRF revenue.


What information did the comptroller release regarding sales tax collections?


Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar today (October 1) said state sales tax revenue totaled $2.57 billion in September, 6.1 percent less than in September 2019. According to his press release:


“The majority of September sales tax revenue is based on sales made in August and remitted to the agency in September.


‘The COVID-19 pandemic and low price of crude oil continue to weigh on the Texas economy and sales tax revenue,’ Hegar said. ‘As was the case the last month, state sales tax receipts from all major sectors, other than retail trade, were down compared with the same month last year, with the steepest declines in the oil and gas-related sectors.


‘Receipts from the information sector were down due to federal preemption of sales taxation of internet access service. While tax receipts grew from some lines of retail business, especially those related to home improvements and outdoor recreation, most of the increase from retail trade was due to remittances from online out-of-state vendors and marketplace providers who did not collect Texas tax a year ago, but which are now required to collect and remit Texas tax following the Wayfair decision and subsequent legislation passed last session.


‘Pandemic-induced changes in consumer shopping behavior also were apparent in generally increased receipts from big box retailers and declines from department stores, apparel stores and other mall and strip center specialty retailers. Receipts from restaurants also remain significantly below pre-pandemic levels.’


Total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in September 2020 was down 2.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Sales tax is the largest source of state funding for the state budget, accounting for 60 percent of all tax collections. The effects of the COVID-related economic slowdown also were evident in some other sources of revenue in September 2020.


Texas collected the following revenue from other major taxes:


-motor vehicle sales and rental taxes — $454 million, up 4.3 percent from September 2019;

-motor fuel taxes — $294 million, down 9.7 percent from September 2019;

-oil production tax — $227 million, down 31.9 percent from September 2019;

-natural gas production tax — $71 million, down 28.1 percent from September 2019;

-hotel occupancy tax — $34 million, down 36.9 percent from September 2019; and

-alcoholic beverage taxes — $78 million, down 33.7 percent from September 2019.


For details on all monthly collections, visit the Comptroller's Monthly State Revenue Watch. For an extensive history of tax policy developments and fees since 1972, visit our updated Sources of Revenue publication.”


September sales tax numbers for cities should be released in about ten days.


What’s the latest on federal stimulus efforts?


House Democrats and the White House have continued to seek common ground on another stimulus bill, but the clock is ticking. Yesterday (September 30) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met to negotiate a deal, but couldn’t ultimately reach an agreement.


Reports indicate that the two sides will continue to meet, and the House is tentatively planning on voting on the HEROES Act later today if no compromise is reached. However, all indications are that the HEROES Act is a non-starter in the Senate, in large part due to the proposed $436 billion for state and local governments. A compromise is necessary if there’s any real possibility of another round of federal stimulus passing before the November election.


Further Updates


Is there going to be straight-ticket voting this November?


No. Last week a federal district judge in Laredo struck down a state law that passed in 2017 and was slated to go into effect for the first time this November that would eliminate the long-standing ability of Texas voters to vote a straight-ticket based on party affiliation. On Monday (September 28), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals put a temporary hold on the lower court’s reinstatement of straight-ticket voting.


Well, it didn’t take long for the Fifth Circuit to make a more formal determination for the November elections. Yesterday (September 30), a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit overruled the district judge’s preliminary injunction, meaning that there will be no option for straight-ticket voting in Texas this November. In the opinion, the panel emphasized the value of preserving the status quo on the eve of an election. To do otherwise, according to the panel, would jeopardize the work election officials have already completed, including the mailing of thousands of ballots without straight-ticket voting and the programming of voting machines. The court will take up the case again after the November election.


Where can I find archived issues of the TML Coronavirus Updates?


TML Coronavirus Updates are archived by date here and by subject here.