Wednesday, August 17, 2005

It All Comes Down To A Lack Of Leadership

Today there are two articles out about Speaker Craddick lashing out and blaming school board members and superintendents for the legislatures failure to produce a school finance plan:
Craddick said he was unable to recruit enough support for education-reform and tax-cut bills because school board members and superintendents barraged members with opposition.

"All they want is money," Craddick said. "They're not interested in any reforms, any changes."
What do the school officials have to say about this?
El Paso-area school officials said lawmakers were using them as a "scapegoat." "I find it very offensive that (Craddick) would question the motives of educators other than commitment to fulfill our responsibilities and obligations to our children," said Hector Montenegro, Ysleta Independent School District superintendent.
It that seems like there is a little blame game going on here. But for years the Republicans have been telling stories about local control of school districts and how they, the locals, know better than the legislators in Austin or Washington. Now that they are in power, and like so many other things they used to say, that whole local control business is no longer something they care very much about. Especially when the locals are opposed to the Republican plan to dismantle public education in Texas:
"Those people — and the speaker especially — see public education as a liability, not as an asset," North East Superintendent Richard Middleton said. "They don't see it as something that's worth keeping and nurturing and developing. They want to find anything else that's cheaper."


Middleton, a veteran superintendent, highlighted school vouchers as one example of the House leadership's emphasis on changing public education.

"They weren't looking for reforms. They were looking at how to replace or dismantle the system," he said
This may seem a little harsh but it's also the truth. Why else would the Republicans be so opposed to making changes that actually benefit education in Texas? Well maybe it's because of their No Tax Pledge of course:
Many pollsters, politicians, consultants and civic leaders say that one central issue has caused the quagmire: the Republican no-new-taxes pledge. Funding schools, always a difficult task, and even the politically desirable effort to slash property taxes have been rendered all but impossible.

Dallas lawyer Michael Boone, an adviser to Republican leaders on school finance for 14 years, said that his party's leaders boxed themselves into a corner.
"The biggest problem was the governor said he would veto anything that raised taxes," Mr. Boone said.

"You cannot eliminate Robin Hood, keep equity, reduce property taxes substantially and adequately fund the schools back to the level where they need to be, and say there will be zero – neutral taxes – at the end. That's the fundamental problem," he said.

Thirty-five House members, including Speaker Tom Craddick, and four senators, all Republican, have signed a no-new-taxes pledge advanced by national anti-tax guru Grover Norquist. The governor has visited with Mr. Norquist on numerous occasions, even taking him on a retreat to the Bahamas.

Mr. Perry said there is a way to reduce property taxes and put new money into schools without raising the overall tax burden. The plan, which would increase sales taxes, would put $2.25 billion more into schools and $7 billion into property tax reduction. School officials have complained that the money they get is barely enough to cover inflation.

"If the critics say that's not enough money, I can't address that in an appropriate fashion," Mr. Perry told The Dallas Morning News in an interview Friday. "Those who say, 'We have to have $8 billion new dollars into the system before we're satisfied,' well, I can't make them satisfied."

Mr. Craddick and others have noted that when Democrats ran the state, they, too, needed a push from judges before changing school funding. Mr. Boone said Democrats deserve some of the blame for the current mess for refusing to adequately fund education when they were in charge of the Legislature, causing the costs to continually be shoved onto property owners. But now, he said, the bills are due.

"You've got to pay the piper," he said. "It's got to begin and end with leadership. Our schools are dying. It's a fact. They're suffocating them to death."
And sadly once again it comes back to a failure of the leadership in this state:
Republican chiefs will not tackle the antiquated state tax system because it would require a new, broad-based business tax, which Mr. Boone favors, or an income tax, which he knows is political kryptonite.

"They cannot lead and cannot be led. They've all been Norquist-ed," Mr. Boone said.
University of Texas political science professor Bruce Buchanan said the first session of all-Republican rule in 2003 was easier because lawmakers dealt primarily with ideological issues – redistricting, abortion restrictions and lawsuit limits.

"Nobody had to sacrifice anything, pay anything or raise any taxes," he said
If anything, Republicans relished a chance to demonstrate fiscal toughness by closing a $10 billion budget shortfall without new taxes. But the no-new-tax doctrine is in conflict with improving schools, limiting the share-the-wealth education funding system, cutting property taxes and paying for more accountability in education, Dr. Buchanan said.

"They're up against a painful reality here, and that is that you can't have a decent – let alone quality – education system without paying for it," he said.
All that above is from Republicans not Democrats. There is also an interesting audio article, Legislature Fallout, from KUT. Which speaks to the fact that Craddick may be challenged for his leadership position and that the governor may be looking for challengers to Dewhurst. It also highlights the fact that we are “living in an age without political consequences” and the current elected officials are “free to do what they want without fear of losing their jobs”. Anyone still think the “Run Everywhere” idea is a bad one? And I'll end with the Statesman putting the final nail in the Republican leadership's coffin:
But no court ruling will make it easier for Republicans — who ran for office promising no new taxes — to vote for a bill that, no matter how they slice and dice it, raises taxes for most Texans. Just as President Clinton and many Democrats finally had to face the need for welfare reform in the 1990s, so Republicans in Texas must eventually face the need to raise some taxes to meet the needs and demands of a growing state.

To do that, some Republican leaders are going to have to take on the business community — to recognize that what's best for businesses' bottom lines doesn't automatically translate into what's best for the people of Texas. The state's tax structure is clearly out of whack with the state's economy. Even if lawmakers continue to refuse to consider a state income tax, there's a need for a broad-based business tax to help carry the budget load along with property and sales taxes.

Unfortunately, for now, there's no sign of such effective leadership in Texas. So lawmakers might as well go home.
Leadership and the lack of it and the inability for them to make their campaign donors pay their fair share are why there was no deal. It's time for a change and the Republican Party and their leaders are unable to deliver it.


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