Liang Shi for KUT

It's that time of the biennium.

The 84th Texas Legislature is just a few short months away, and state lawmakers are already filing their bills for the first Rick Perry-less session this side of the millennium. So far, the bills include legislative pet projects like texting and driving bans, open carry initiatives and tax cuts. Other proposals target tougher statewide issues like transportation funding and state budgeting.

You can find a roundup of issues that state lawmakers are considering below.

Graphic by the Texas Tribune

Lower taxes and less government spending are hallmarks of Texas Republican leadership, and any candidate hoping to get through a GOP primary in Texas.

But making cuts at the state level hasn't actually stopped some spending, or the need to raise revenues to pay for infrastructure projects that, without state and federal money, counties and municipalities can't shoulder on their own.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Today is the IRS tax filing deadline.  

But, like last year, Austin area U.S. Post Offices will not stay open until midnight. Post offices across the country are cutting down on late hours for tax day.  That’s because most people now file online.

"According to the Internal Revenue Service, this year over 90 percent of tax returns nationwide have already been electronically filed online," USPS said in a press release. "Of the 148 million returns the IRS expects to be filed this year, only 23 million will be paper returns, down seven percent from last year."

Credit unions around the country want their members to memorize one phrase right now: Don’t tax my credit union.

The credit unions have enjoyed tax-exempt status since the 1930s, but lawmakers could push them to pay with new federal regulations.

Liang Shi/KUT News

The Texas House will take up what is likely to be its most sweeping attempt at tax reform this year on Tuesday, though for some critics, it doesn’t go far enough.

Lawmakers have been waiting for weeks for House Bill 500, from state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, to reach the floor. The bill would spend nearly $400 million to reduce the burden of the state's franchise tax on businesses, also known as the margins tax. Along with addressing how the tax applies to a handful of industries, the bill would make permanent a popular provision that exempts businesses with less than $1 million in gross receipts from paying the tax annually. The provision is set to expire next year.

Bobby Blanchard for KUT News

On tax day, Gov. Rick Perry called for tax cuts for businesses amounting to $1.6 billion over the biennium.

Perry called for $1 million tax deduction for business earning under $20 million annually. He also called for a five percent cut on the franchise tax, which all corporations chartered in Texas pay.

This story was co-produced with NPR.

Imagine filing your income taxes in five minutes — and for free. You'd open up a pre-filled return, see what the government thinks you owe, make any needed changes and be done. The miserable annual IRS shuffle, gone.

It's already a reality in Denmark, Sweden and Spain. The government-prepared return would estimate your taxes using information your employer and bank already send it. Advocates say tens of millions of taxpayers could use such a system each year, saving them a collective $2 billion and 225 million hours in prep costs and time, according to one estimate.

The days of procrastinating until midnight to mail your taxes are over. For the first time in years, Austin's U.S. Postal Service will not have extended hours on tax day. 

Due to increases in electronic filing, the agency's spokesperson in Austin said that it can no longer justify staying open until midnight on April 15.

Lizzie Chen for KUT News

When Texas lawmakers found out they’d have more than $101 billion to spend this legislative session, some immediately began calling for tax cuts. Now one prominent business lobbying group has laid out its idea for what those cuts could look like.

For Bill Hammond, it’s a simple formula: Keep taxes low and the Texas economic engine keeps on chugging. Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, says making permanent the business tax exemption for companies that bring in less than $1 million in gross receipts would really fuel the economy, as would allowing those making more than that to exempt their first $1 million.

KUT News

Contrary to what you may have heard, people in the country illegally can file a return. They use a special IRS-issued number called an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). But new IRS rules effective this month mean some changes for people using ITINs.

In 2010, the latest available data from the IRS, nearly 18 million people paid their taxes with ITINs.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says it's up to congressional Republicans to take the next step in budget talks to avoid the pending automatic spending cuts and tax increases at the end of the year.

Appearing on the Sunday talk shows, Geithner said there's "no path to an agreement" until Republicans are willing to accept higher tax rates on the rich.

President Obama is hoping the same campaign tools that helped him win re-election will also deliver a policy win in the fight over federal taxes.

The president wants Congress to extend Bush-era tax cuts for most Americans, while allowing taxes to go up for the wealthiest 2 percent. His aides are using email, social media and beyond-the-Beltway campaign appearances in hopes of putting pressure on Republican lawmakers.

A handful of congressional Republicans after finishing their Thanksgiving dinners decided to give anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist the brushoff, saying they wouldn't abide by his "no new taxes" pledge as they work on a budget deal.

Breathless coverage ensued.

"Move over, Grover?" read one headline.

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Later this month, Travis County mails out 2012 property tax bills to homeowners. Those bills will be bigger than last year, but not by much. Tax rates have gone up, but those rates are applied to lower property values than in 2011, dampening some of the tax rate increases.

According to Marya Crigler, chief appraiser for the Travis Central Appraisal District, the average home in Travis County is appraised at $213,954, a .47 percent decrease from 2011. In the City of Austin, the average home's assessment declined .76 percent, to $251,458. So, a home that was worth $250,000 in 2011 is worth $248,100 in 2012, for taxing purposes. Appraisals are based roughly on market value.

While assessed values were down, most taxing authorities raised their tax rates for 2012. Here's a look at tax increases across the board, to the five entities Austin residents pay tax to: 

Photo courtesy Jason Thompson via the Please BE KIND to Cyclists Facebook page

Texas State University Celebrates Move to the Sun Belt Conference

Texas State University is holding a reception for students today to mark the upcoming move to the Sun Belt Conference. The reception will give students an opportunity to meet and visit with head coaches and athletic administrators to discuss the move.

Texas State University President Denise Trauth announced yesterday that the university will join the Sun Belt Conference in 2013-2014 season.

Right now, eleven schools participate in the Sun Belt Conference. Georgia State will also join the conference in 2013. Texas State and Georgia State will join Arkansas State, Arkansas-Little Rock, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, South Alabama, Troy and Western Kentucky.

Free curly fries are among the freebies businesses offer customers this Tax Day.
Photo courtesy

Some retailers are trying to ease the burden of Tax Day with free and discounted products.

Here's a look at some of the businesses offering a little something extra this April 17 – at participating locations, of course.

Update: Looking to get that midnight postmark? Sorry, but Austin's post offices are no longer staying open until midnight for tax day. Read more here.

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11:59 p.m. is the deadline to have your tax returns postmarked. The General Mail Facility at 8225 Cross Park Drive near Anderson Lane and U.S. 290 East will be collecting mail until midnight to help procrastinators.

But unlike in years past, post office officials don’t expect a huge late-night rush. Many people now use the internet to submit their tax forms. Sam Bolen is a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service. Bolen says he’s not sure how much longer Austin will have a post office open late for Tax Day.

Image courtesy City of Austin

A report on how best to regulate short term rental (STR) properties – houses rented out by owners through sites like HomeAway – was presented to a city council committee today. And it showed a leap in the number of properties registered, totaling 79 percent of the properties surveyed.

In real numbers, however, the increase was from 14 to 26.

Admittedly, this report from the Office of the City Auditor was given a narrow scope: to update the registration status and tax status of 33 STR properties the Auditor’s office had previously surveyed, and to determine whether three recommendations emerging from a prior audit had been implemented.

Photo courtesy

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that the state can continue to charge the so-called "pole tax," a $5 per patron tax at strip clubs. 

A lower court had ruled that the tax violated the constitutional right to free speech. But in an opinion issued August 25, the Supreme Court said the tax did not present a burden on speech.

Delivering the opinion Justice Nathan L. Hecht wrote:

Image Courtesy of rankingranqueen

A budget deficit of $27 million has some people envisioning blackjack tables and penny slots in the parts of South and East Texas. Casino lobbyists are working overtime right now. But is the shortfall enough to put a tax on things like coal or making people pay a fee for driving cars that don't pass fuel efficiency standards?

The Texas League of Conservation Voters hopes so. The environmental policy lobby group calls this "green revenue."  They laid out some suggestions today at a press  conference held at the State Capitol.