May 12, 2004
Do the Senate two-step

Will they or won't they take action in the Senate on school finance reform?


The Texas Senate continued drifting like an iceberg Tuesday, taking a long time to do very little in public while nine-tenths of the school finance and taxation action occurred below the surface.

What is likely to emerge, perhaps as soon as today or Thursday, is a revamped school finance system, a deep property tax cut, slot machines with a second lease on life and a state franchise tax with a wider reach. And the plan stands at least a chance of getting gubernatorial approval.

Note that the three proposals - statewide property tax, slot machines, and a revamped corporate franchise tax - were all rejected by the House. Never let it be said that the Senate is intimidated by such things.

Maybe not.

A key senator on Tuesday forecast doom for the special session on school finance, saying that half of the Senate favors letting time run out on the 30-day session.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said the Senate is "pretty well evenly divided" between those who want to pass a plan regardless of its future in the House and those who believe that "maybe we just need to run out the clock."

"That's the central issue right now politically in what's going on," said Ogden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "I don't know when we're going to move off the dime."


Senate leaders on Tuesday outlined a proposed school finance formula that would be based on a new state property tax of $1 per $100 valuation and a guaranteed funding increase of at least 2 percent for all districts.

The plan also includes a reduction in school property taxes that would trim the average property tax bill about a third, or 50 cents off the current maximum rate of $1.50 for school operating expenses. The total property tax cut would be about $5.25 billion.

Maybe not.

Even as two of the state's three top elected leaders met privately Tuesday in search of common ground on public school finance, senators hearing expert testimony on the issue were concluding that no measure will be adopted before the special session ends next week.

Several legislators indicated privately that since there appears to be no consensus on how to fund Texas' public schools while also providing property tax relief, the Legislature should wait until the next regular session convenes in January to take up the measure.

And just for variety, maybe later.

As lawmakers head into the final week of the 30-day special legislative session on school finance, a key state senator said Tuesday that he is more concerned with crafting a sound system to pay for public education than completing work before the Legislature adjourns May 19.

"The 19th is a hard-and-fast deadline, but it doesn't compel me to say, 'Well, just throw something together just because we're running out of time,' " said Bryan Republican Steve Ogden, who leads the budget-writing school-finance committee.

I'm sorry to report that the first casualty of all this dithering in the Senate will be Speaker Craddick's vacation plans. Hey, if we have to suffer through the summer here, he may as well have to as well.

Of course, all of this could change tomorrow. Hell, it could already have changed. I still don't think anything will be adopted before the May 19th end of this session. I don't know if there will be any momentum at that time for a positive result by the end of a second session, or if the long-awaited consensus will be that it's all a massive waste of time. We'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 12, 2004 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack