Monday, August 01, 2005

School Superindendents Make Craddick Whine

This Dallas Morning News article, Superintendents wield power over bills, points out how the school finance scheme backfired on the "big 3":
School superintendents watch the Capitol from afar and know the details of school finance legislation better than some lawmakers.

They hold powerful positions in their communities, and during the last few days, they've spoken in a loud chorus about what they thought were flaws in the Legislature's education funding plans.
From that blurb we can see that the legislature was at a disadvantage to begin with. The superintendents were fighting for something they cared about and the "big 3" were just fighting for their big money donors. Not to mention the fact that the superintendents know the issues, the problems that schools face and what is needed. So they have that on the legislature and the "big 3" as well. Oh yeah, here is Craddick's whine:
"The superintendents have really beat our members up the last few days," the speaker said after bills fell apart in the House. "The school people are against it. It makes it tough to vote."
I believe it was Rep. Coleman that said, "It's hard to pass bad public policy". Then logicallly this statement is true, "It's easy to beat up on legislators who are for bad public policy".

Speaking of bad public policy this editorial from the Sherman Dennison Herald Democrat, Time to listen to educators, is a thing of beauty.
Time to listen to educators

By Kathy Williams
Herald Democrat

Texas' top three political leaders must be morose. They have failed miserably to pass school finance and tax reform bills, even after four tries and an obscene amount of arm twisting.

That news is only half bad for the rest of us because the system half worked. It's sad our schools are in limbo with no sure budget and property owners bereft of tax relief. However, we can be joyful that we aren't stuck with either house's version of what they called reform.

The bills were dogs, both of them. And they got uglier with each attempt to fix them. HB2 version 200-something and its companion tax "reform" bill HB3, also in its hundredth or more iteration by the third special session of the Texas Legislature, increasingly became compromises that pleased no one. So they died.

By the end of the second special session, the property tax reduction had gone from dropping the cap to $1 per $100 to lowering it to $1.20-$1.25. With no new money to help fast-growing and poor districts build new schools and repair old ones, the debt service part of local districts' budgets likely would raise property tax rates to their previous levels within a few years.

School districts complained, and rightly so, that there were requirements included in the ever-changing bills that wiped out any so-called "new money" provided. Local superintendents and school board members railed publicly against the bills, saying they would be a disaster to public education. Many questioned privately if the GOP agenda were to kill off public education in favor of school vouchers for private schools and home-schooling on the public tab. And many vowed, come election time, they would remember that Republican legislators turned a deaf ear to their fears and ideas.

The education reform plan was written at the ultra-conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University. The Institution developed a boiler plate plan that the far right wing of the Republican Party has pushed in several states, not just Texas. However, in Texas, it is that far-right wing that dominates the government.

How can it be that Republican-authored legislation could fail in a state ruled totally by the Republican Party? The answer comes from the way the domination took place. Many of the junior members of the Legislature are owned, totally, by the business interests that put them in power. The leadership, particularly Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, has invested its political coinage in U.S. Rep. Tom Delay's nasty political machine, Texans for a Republican Majority PAC. TRMPAC's leaders are under indictment, accused of using corporate money to run attack ads against Democratic candidates.

The TRMPAC-DeLay-Craddick-Perry machine cares nothing for ordinary Texans' future nor the fate of any state endeavor save "economic development." Economic development is an extraordinarily loose term. It's projects that help communities counter the ill effects of global competition for jobs. It's strong-arm tactics to muscle jobs away from one city and into another. It's giving business and industry a virtually free ride, while balancing the state's budget on its poorest people. In Texas in 2005, it means the last.

Business and corporate giants, lawyers, doctors and other professionals paid enough in 2002 and 2004 to drive home the message to homeowners: Vote for Republicans; and not just any Republicans, but those who supported Craddick to become speaker of the House. Otherwise, homeowners wouldn't get the property tax relief they were desperate to obtain. The party leadership cracked the whip, keeping members in line, to "keep the legislation moving."

The message wasn't lost on new members of the Legislature that voting against Craddick's wishes would not be tolerated. Party discipline was everything.

In 2003, Rep. Bob Griggs, a Republican from North Richland Hills, joined the Legislature. His status as a former public school superintendent, one highly regarded by his peers, earned him a seat on the House Committee on Public Education. In 2003, Craddick appointed Griggs to the Select Committee on School Finance and the subsequent Joint Working Group on School Finance.

But Griggs had the bad political sense to vote against school vouchers. Craddick didn't appoint Griggs to any committees working on education issues this session.

Why is so much party loyalty necessary? Although all homeowners and rental property owners welcome property tax relief, it's industry that scores massively when property taxes go away. The revenue generated is so great (but not unfairly high compared with income generated) that the House and Senate cobbled together a tattered array of taxes, most all regressive, to replace it. They emptied every pot: Sin taxes and sales taxes. They still couldn't find the scratch to give the full one-third property tax rate decrease they had targeted.

They tried to reform the business franchise tax, currently paid by a small fraction of the state's businesses. Every attempt to make the business tax "fair" burned a different component of the big-bucks backers. Legislators went from including all but sole-proprietorships, the smallest businesses, to "including more than 10,000 additional businesses."

In the end, all attempts at both school finance reform and the tax bill to pay for education collapsed, felled by the ugly mother to which it was born.

Immediately Perry, Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst huddled. This is bad sign indeed for their political futures.

"The superintendents have really beat our members up the last few days," Craddick said Tuesday night. "The school people are against it. It makes it tough to vote."

Is it too much to hope that they will listen to Texas educators about Texas education? Is there anyone with the political voice to offer similar hope to the non-wealthy? Could truly fair taxation become law in Texas?

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