If you had any optimism about the potential of a special session on school finance reform to actually improve schools and funding for them, Governor Perry was in town to kill all hope of that.
Perry wants to limit home appraisal increases to 3 percent a year, make elected officials responsible for appraisal values and cap local government tax collections unless voters approve additional taxes.
Perry also promised to decrease school taxes and get rid of the "Robin Hood" system of school tax distribution, which shifts money from rich districts to poor ones. He offered no specifics on how much taxes would be cut or where he would get funding to replace the money lost in the cuts. He said his plan will be "revenue neutral."
"We need more education for our money, not just more money for our education," he told a crowd of hundreds that spilled out of an auditorium at Bayland Community Center in southwest Houston.
Perry's plan was immediately attacked by local government groups, who called it "potentially dangerous."
Donald Lee, executive director of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, said the governor's plan "fails to address the root causes behind high property taxes and instead paints all local elected officials as irresponsible. The proposal ignores the fact that tax increases at the local level have been driven by decisions at the state level."
Lee added that a particularly expensive natural disaster could force a city to wait until the next election before having enough money to proceed with recovery plans.
Frank Sturzl, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, urged legislators to avoid hurting city finances as they try to solve the school finance problem.
"Cities collect only 15 percent of property taxes in Texas while schools collect more than 60 percent. The municipal share of all property taxes fell from 20.3 percent to 15.3 percent from 1985 to 2002," he said. "Texas cities hope that lawmakers won't confuse Robin Hood with the folks that fix your potholes."
Houston Mayor Bill White, who faces a budget shortfall and is considering employee layoffs, bristled at Perry's approach and said local governments should have more control over revenues, not less.
"The biggest help we can get out of Austin is fair reallocation of the funds that go from this area to Austin," he said, adding that transportation money is sent to Austin and divvied up.
"If we didn't have that gap ... we could have significant (decrease) of property tax rates," White said.
The mayor did not offer any figures to prove his claim, and a spokesman for the state comptroller said he is not aware of any figures that support White's position.
Perry scoffed at his critics, calling them proponents of big government.
"They're not just thumbing their nose at me," he said. "They're thumbing their nose at you and millions of Texans."
Under Perry's plan, local governments would not be able to collect taxes that exceeded a certain amount based on inflation and population growth unless voters approved higher taxes. The formula for determining the cap has yet to be worked out. If revenues were higher than the allowed amount, the tax rate would automatically be rolled back.
Meanwhile, back at the Capital, those who will have to do Perry's dirty work listened to some expert testimony about the actual effects of property tax caps.
Precise elements of tax and funding ideas being mulled by the 14-member Select Committee on Public School Finance remain unresolved — including projected costs.
Once fiscal details are known, "it'll be a rude awakening, I'm afraid," said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who leads the panel with Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington.
Rice University economist George Zodrow presented the cost of replacing school and other revenue based on a state estimate of $7.1 billion to cut the 2002 average school M&O tax rate of $1.46 per $100 valuation to 75 cents per $100 valuation and $1.9 billion to eliminate the corporate franchise tax.
Zodrow rated the efficiency, equity, simplicity, stability and deductibility of 10 tax options for the committee, which has a goal of completing its suggestions to lawmakers by next week.
He did not spell out a favored mix of taxes, but Zodrow indicated the economy would benefit from broadening the sales tax to more items purchased by consumers and said that a value-added tax applied to business would be simpler to administer than the franchise tax.
Conceding that creation of a state personal income tax is "anathema to many Texans and to virtually all Texas politicians," Zodrow said it would still prove easy to collect and give taxpayers a deduction on federal income taxes—unlike sales taxes.
Citing research by the Comptroller's Office, Zodrow said a flat personal income tax, including all deductions and exemptions allowed under federal tax law, would yield $3 billion a year for each percentage point of tax. A tax rate of 2.75 percent would raise $8.1 billion a year.
Shapiro said the final version also should suggest creation of a statewide property tax for education, one element in a Senate-approved plan last year.
She said she would favor expanding the sales tax to consumer services such as haircuts or manicures, but would oppose expanding the sales tax to legal fees and real estate because such changes would "hurt business."
More analysis from the Center for Public Policy Priorities can be found here and here. Agendas and meeting handouts from the Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance are here. Major thanks to my friend Brandy, who's been sitting in on these hearings, for the links.Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 12, 2004 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack