July 17, 2005
"Flying on empty"

As of this evening, prospects on a school finance compromise are not looking good.

"I wouldn't kid you, this thing is flying on empty right now," said Republican Sen. Steve Ogden, who is the chief Senate negotiator on the bill designed to change the way Texans pay taxes. "I hope we'll make it. We don't need any more headwind."

The special session ends on Wednesday, but legislative rules require more time for bills to go through a mandatory 24-hour wait period after they are printed and analyzed. Without an agreement on Sunday, approving legislation this session would be extremely difficult.

While a panel of House and Senate negotiators met on a bill that would spend billions of dollars on new education programs, Ogden, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick each spent several moments in Gov. Rick Perry's office, at different times.

Perry called the special session to restructure the way Texans are taxed to pay for public schools. Both the House and the Senate have approved their versions of the two bills and now panels of 10 lawmakers for each must work out the differences.


Negotiators were still stumped on the issue of recapture, which is the term for money that property wealthy districts give back to the state to redistribute to poorer districts. The recapture element gave the system its nickname, Robin Hood. Lawmakers who represent property wealthy schools were working to allow those districts to keep more of their property tax revenue, rather than giving it back to the state.

Even if negotiators do reach a compromise in time for it to get a vote by the full chambers, Democratic Sen. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso has threatened to filibuster the bill over an increased sales tax, which he says is unfairly burdensome to lower-income Texans.

In the two-plus years of school finance reform attempts, ever since the first Senate plan was passed unanimously in 2003 (and then immediately garrotted by Craddick and Perry), I've had the occasional moment of hope that what we'd get is a real update of our antiquated tax system, one which doesn't keep up with population growth and which lets way too many stakeholders off with way to little a burden. The longer this battle has gone on, the more clear that the whole thing has been about nothing but shifting taxes from those who don't need the help onto those who do, while letting the same scofflaws off the hook. All political calculations aside, what's being negotiated now is worse than what we've got, and there's no way to get to "better" from here, so the best we can hope for is for the whole thing to die once again.

Via Greg, a great summary of why we are where we are comes from Rep. Scott Hochberg. I encourage you to read it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 17, 2005 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack