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Abilene native state Sen. Charles Schwertner's agenda includes educations costs, business taxes

Matthew Waller
Abilene Reporter News
March 26, 2015

{via the Abilene Reporter News}

AUSTIN — State Sen. Charles Schwertner performs his lawmaking duties with a kind of genteel ferocity.

The Georgetown Republican, whose parents still live in Abilene and where he grew, has been called a rising star in the Texas Senate.

"I'm a strong conservative," Schwertner told the Abilene Reporter-News on Tuesday outside the Senate floor. "I belief in limited government and fiscal responsibility and the individual and individual rights over the state."

His mother, Kaye Schwertner, said it was unexpected that Schwertner should chose to get into politics and run for representative, an office he won in 2010. He won his Senate race in 2012.

"We were kind of surprised," Kaye Schwertner said. "That was a big step for him. He was busy working as a physician. … He decided he might could help the people of Texas in his district."

Charles Schwertner represents Senate District 5, and Williamson, Milam, Robertson, Limestone, Freestone, Leon, Madison, Brazos, Grimes and Walker counties

Schwertner, with his wife and three teenage boys, visit Abilene often, the senator said.

Schwertner, an orthopedic surgeon, is the chairman of the powerful Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

He described the issues he worked on as broadly applying to most everyone across the state.

His priorities are "the issues that affect Texas families and kind of the bread-and-butter issues that people discuss every day at work and the kitchen table. Make sure we have great schools and the challenges that we face with a growing state regarding our infrastructure such as roads and utilities. And then also, of course, health care is a big issue for those that need the support and services of the state of Texas, those like our intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals ... our seniors that reside in the nursing homes. As chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee that's an area that I have particular focus on because a lot of those issues obviously flow through that committee."

He also has become an advocate for regulating the cost of tuition.

"Middle-class families are being priced out of the ability to afford higher education, so it's a big issue," Schwertner said. "I think of long-term importance. If you can't afford to open the door of higher education, we're not going to be able to supply the workforce that's necessary for the Texas economy long term. ... We need educated individuals and access to affordable higher education is a key component of that."

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said Schwertner's bona fides as a conservative aid the tuition regulation cause, which could otherwise be seen as government interference.

Schwertner has argued that universities should do more to try to contain costs and find efficiencies without shifting the burden on students, whereas universities may lament a lack of state support for their education institutions.

"He is clearly a strong conservative," Jones said. "He is in the movement conservative wing of the party, but he also has the reputation of someone who can get things done. He is seen as conservative, but not as an inflexible ideologue."

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he was glad to work with Schwertner, calling him a "straight shooter.

"He is very serious about his work," Hinojosa said.

One major bill that Schwertner is championing is Senate Bill 8, legislation that would lift the floor for businesses to be exempt from $1 million to $4 million, essentially an aid to small businesses.

Several major big business associations, such as the Texas Association of Business and the Texas Oil and Gas Association, protested the Senate's tax strategy and said they felt they would be shouldered with an enormous part of the state's tax burden.

A letter from the group states that "while the Senate package provides relief from the business franchise tax, it creates an inexplicable taxpayer divide. The Senate plan would quadruple the small business exemption (from $1 million to $4 million) leaving only 55,000 of the state's 1 million registered businesses subject to the tax. One taxpayer would have to carry the load for 19 nontaxpaying businesses."

Schwertner shot back with his own letter, and the support of smaller business associations. 

The "Small Business Tax Relief Act (SB 8) would reduce franchise tax collections by $380 million a year — less than 8% of the $4.8 billion the franchise tax currently brings in," Schwertner wrote. "If you'll forgive me, it doesn't seem as though you're concerned with the state of Texas providing tax relief per se, just in providing tax relief that doesn't directly benefit big business."

Matthew Waller covers state news as the Scripps Austin Bureau chief. Contact him at matthew.waller@scripps.com or follow him on Twitter @waller_matthew.