Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Texas' Dirty Little Secret

Yesterday on my drive home one of the talking heads in the area starting talking about the Texas Poll from last week, Poll shows most blame legislators, lobbyists for school-finance impasse. He started by talking about the blame numbers - who Texans blame for the special session debacles - which show Texans don't agree on who to blame (my words). But then went on to these numbers in particular:
57% agree with the state "Robin Hood" mandate that property-wealthy districts share their money with poorer districts

65% consider their school property taxes too high (33 percent say they're just about right, and just 1 percent say too low)

61% expect to pay more taxes overall under any new school-finance plan (10 percent expect to pay less, 23 percent the same)
I think the radio hosts main problem was that he couldn't separate the fact that while someone may believe their property taxes are too high, they don't mind paying more "taxes", if done right, to finance public schools. Not to mention the fact that most people believe, no matter what party is in power, that their taxes will only go up.

The point I've heard a few people make is that you can't have "Robin Hood" and have your property taxes lowered too. I guess the logic is that if "Robin Hood" was no longer in place all the wealthy school districts could lower their property taxes because they would no longer be shipping money of to poor school districts? But conversely, wouldn't all the poor school districts have to raise theirs to make up the difference? What these numbers say is that most of the people in this state, not legislators or the Governor or Speaker or Lt. Governor, the people are fine with "Robin Hood", most people still believe those with more should help those with less. But 65% believe that the current tax structure is bad. Lastly, most people do not have a problem paying higher taxes for a better school finance plan.

That's radical stuff folks. Imagine if we had a fairly financed, well financed school system. Who would be against that? Well many people. We saw that during both special sessions. The plans that were proposed by the Republicans all raised taxes on the poor and middle class and lowered taxes on the wealthy. This is another example in a long line of the leadership of this state doing what they think is best and not what is best or what the people want. Failed leadership.

So what to do about it? These numbers that should jump out at everyone and shows people moving toward the idea of a state income tax:
Although there is practically no support in the Legislature for a state income tax, 45 percent of respondents said they would support an income tax if it reduced property taxes and the revenue was used for education. Slightly more – 47 percent – said they opposed the idea.
As I pointed out over the weekend this is pretty much a 50/50 split now on a state income tax. Now I know an income tax is a sure killer, right? Well maybe in the short term but not in the long term (see this). As Democrats stay away from doing what got them into power and on the side of the people in the first place - in this case it would be putting together a comprehensive long-term plan to fix the tax structure and adequately fund public schools in Texas - they just stay in the "Republican-lite" category. "Our plan is like theirs but more fair". What I call a Republican with a D next to his name, and that is a sure loser. Because given the choice a Republican will vote for the candidate with the R next to their name.

All of this is to say that Democrats need not be afraid of speaking/advocating for and income tax as long as it's framed as an alternative to the current tax structure in this state that favors the wealthy. I have come to think of a state income tax as Texas' dirty little secret. If instituted correctly it would do everything a majority of Texans want: Fair funding of public schools, lower property taxes and for those with the most they will pay a little more in taxes that will go to the public schools. Greg had this to say about an income tax, Texas Goes Retro: Robin Hood Now the Latest Rage:
By nature, I'm predisposed against such an idea, but I suspect there's a cautionary tale somewhere in this ... if the state GOP insists upon making the tax code more and more regressive, the idea is going to take root in better political terrain at some point down the road. I'd just as soon not arrive at that day or reckoning, but the recklessness of the other side doesn't exactly instill a great deal of confidence that we can go on through the long term as-is.
A regressive tax falls harder on those with less money, a progressive tax - which an income tax is - hits everyone more equally. That is the other framing benefit, the fairness of an income tax, as linked above, is what makes it contrast with the current system and what has been proposed. Senator Eliot Shapleigh and Representative Eddie Rodriguez have been out front on this issue for quite some time.

An income tax has and for the most part still is a dirty word in Texas. I am not naive enough not to know that if the Texas Democratic Party was to embrace this they would not take some immediate hits for it. But as I've read over the course of the last year or so on the history of the conservative movement in this country, after Goldwater was railroaded, those people did not give up they made a plan. It's time for the Democrats in Texas to make a plan and I believe it should have as it's focal point a state income tax to fund public education. Let me have it.


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