Answer: When you can get someone else to do the tax-increasing for you, as the Lege is fixing to do by cutting $1 billion out of their education allocation, thus passing the bucket to individual school districts. Those that can raise tax assessments likely will; those that are already maxed out will either agitate for higher property valuations or start sharpening the knife.
"The magnitude of the number surprises me," said Catherine Clark, an associate executive director of the Texas Association of School Boards.
Clark said the property tax values reported for some districts do not reflect the current economic decline. Clark said local taxpayers would have to make up the loss of increased state funding.
"A lot of districts will have to raise taxes," she said.
Karen Soehnge, an associate director of the Texas Association of School Administrators, said a $1 billion shift in public education costs to local districts "would be catastrophic."
Soehnge said most districts are already under "great pain" to pay their bills without additional funding from the state to pay for enrollment increases.
"If they were to cut $1 billion, there would be serious decisions to be made involving learning," Soehnge said.
While the first day of the legislative session was mostly ceremonial, the Legislative Budget Board quietly delivered to each lawmaker a 4-inch-thick, 11-pound stack of documents that outlined a proposed $124.5 billion budget to pay for state services in 2004-2005 with state and federal funds.
The state's share of the LBB budget would cost $64.6 billion -- about $10.5 billion more than Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has said the Legislature has to spend for the next two years.
Strayhorn's estimate of the revenue shortfall had been $9.9 billion, but it did not include some items in the LBB budget.
The LBB budget does not include funding for a projected increase of 140,000 public school students over the next two years as estimated by the Texas Education Agency. If funding of that enrollment increase had been included, the revenue shortfall would have risen to $11.5 billion.
The Texas Education Agency's budget request to the LBB said the enrollment increase would push the cost of the state's Foundation School Program to $22.6 billion in the upcoming biennium, which begins Sept. 1, but the proposed LBB budget allocates $21.6 billion.
Public education cost $25.8 billion in state and local funding this year, according to the LBB, with the state paying a decade-low 40.7 percent share. The state paid 47.2 percent of the cost in 1998, the high point for the past decade.