Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Who Has More Power? I Hope The People Do!

As Gov. Perry says, "just the taxes ma'am" and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst says, "Let's try to do it all, like last year", it pains me to say it but I agree with Gov. Perry on this one. For a historical perspective on the power struggle between these two positions check out this column from Dave McNeely, Who has more power? Texas' governor or its lieutenant governor?
In several states, the lieutenant governor is an afterthought and ticket-balancer picked by the gubernatorial candidate, mostly there to take over if something happens to the governor.

But the Texas lieutenant governor is the most powerful in the country. He is elected independently from the governor, rather than as part of a ticket. Texas, with several other former Confederate states, hated top-down rule imposed by radical Republicans during Reconstruction following the Civil War.
But back to the upcoming special session and what needs to happen. Last week Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz briefed the Senate Select Committee on Education Reform and Public School Finance on the areas of uncertainty on the school finance roadmap. He pointed out five possible actions lawmakers could take to bring school finance in line with the court’s requirements. Pay special attention to the last paragraph:
1. Passing a constitutional amendment allowing a statewide property tax. Although this is the simplest solution from a legal standpoint, the vote requirements for a constitutional amendment make it a difficult one to enact. "“A constitutional amendment that would be passed by the people and establish a statewide property tax would make this claim go away,"” Cruz said.

2. Fundamental reforms that would move away from the property tax altogether as the main source of funding for Texas schools. While some taxes were proposed in the last few sessions to supplement the property tax, a system still primarily based on that tax would nonetheless be unchanged as far as the court system is concerned. The next three actions all involve some way of working within the existing system:

3. Raising the cap. This would be the simplest solution, and could even be accomplished in a one-sentence bill raising the $1.50 property tax to $1.65 or $1.70. One way of doing this is through a local enrichment option. But this, as Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) said, raises the issue of equity. If some schools can raise more money through local option taxes than other schools can, the system fails the test of being "“equitable."” Cruz agreed. "“With any of these options, one of the delicacies of this matter is that each of these issues are interconnected, and it is always an issue that how the Legislature addresses one can impact the others,"” he said.

4. Lowering the floor. The Legislature can do this by reducing the requirements it lays on local districts. The problem here is that the state never explicitly says what criteria would constitute an "“adequate"” education. In absence of direction, districts have argued for a wide range of costs. The state, for example, requires schools to lower the dropout rate.. One school district went so far as to argue a water slide would reduce dropouts. Shapiro asked if the state couldn'’t simply define what the floor was once and for all by defining adequacy. "“If we put the criteria in place for adequacy, that would then not address the issue of the floor and the ceiling?"” she asked.

Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) said he didn'’t think that was possible, and said that changes in technology and new reforms would require that “"whatever we do flows with the times."

5. "“Buying down the floor."” The state could accomplish this by providing direct funds to districts to cover some of the costs represented in the floor. Cruz noted, however, that lowering the floor doesn'’t necessarily give the Legislature free reign then to lower the cap - i.e., to reduce the property taxes.

Although the school finance ruling found against the plaintiffs on most points, denying their arguments that Texas schools were under-funded, Cruz said most of the solutions do in fact imply greater funding of schools.
That's right the Republicans are going to have to come up with a plan that put MORE money into public schools. There's a sixth plan but of course in this discussion with everything on the table it's not on the table. For the average working person it would drop your property taxes by 2/3 and lower your overall tax burden. But we can't talk about it so I won't.


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