August 09, 2005
Senate still at it

Disregarding Tom Craddicks' plea to pack it up and go home, the Senate intends to take a vote on its latest school finance package today.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Monday that he has been talking to senators since Thursday, when Speaker Tom Craddick called for an early adjournment of the session, the second of the summer, in which the House already has killed school finance and tax bills.

"We've got a consensus of senators who want to go forward. They hope that this will act as a catalyst in the House to help them come together," he said.

He admitted that Craddick's position makes it more of a challenge to have a successful outcome to the session, which has to end by Aug. 19.

"In any game, whether it's baseball or football or politics, if the coach on the other side takes his team off the field, it's kind of hard to move the ball," Dewhurst said. "I know we've got some frustrated legislators, but we were elected to do a job."

I didn't think moving the ball was an objective in baseball, but those are the risks one takes when applying sports metaphors to politics.

How are we doing on the consensus front?

Craddick said it was unlikely the House would approve the Senate's education bill because the measure has been stripped of several "reforms" important to House members.

Those include a provision that would move school board elections to November and a limit on the tax revenue that the wealthiest school districts are required to share with poor schools.

"We're not going to pass a bill just to pass a bill," Craddick said. "We want reforms in there."

Dewhurst said the bill contains significant reforms, including a requirement that districts spend a certain portion of their revenue on classroom instruction and intervention for low-performing schools.

"Over the last week our Senate members have been talking to their colleagues in the House. The provisions that were taken out ... were controversial ones that in their conversations with leaders over in the House they didn't believe were critical for passing," said Dewhurst.

The school board election provision was one of the things that school boards and superintendents strongly opposed, while the tax revenue sharing limit is the sop to Highland Park that refuses to die.

Too bad there's no one in the Senate trying to push through a companion bill to the Hochberg Amendment. If that actually passed, I think it would actually put a little pressure on Craddick to do something, since we already know such a thing can pass in the House.

Of course, whatever the Senate does, there's still the matter of paying for it. On that score, Sen. Eliot Shapleigh is pushing for a state income tax. I know, I know, it's heresy and it'll never happen, but consider this:

Mike Baselice, an Austin-based pollster who includes the governor in his clientele, has been commissioned twice in recent years to gauge public opinion on an income tax.

The first poll asked respondents whether they would support a flat 3 percent income tax. Only 22 percent said yes.

The second poll threw in the fact that it's federally tax-deductible and would be dedicated to education and property tax relief. Support jumped to 55 percent.

We may not be ready to debate this just yet, but I believe that day is coming. Link via ItPT.

UPDATE: I thought I'd heard that the telecom bill will once again be taken up today, but I couldn't find anything in the news. Save Muni Wireless has the information. I swear, I looked there as well, but apparently I looked too soon. Thanks, Adina!

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 09, 2005 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

Looks like they're planning to take up telecom also:

Concensus might be unlikely for school finance, but when it comes to serving the phone companies...

Posted by: Adina Levin on August 9, 2005 10:13 AM

The survey showing support for a state income tax jumping markedly upon voters becoming aware that it's tax deductible on federal income taxes was very interesting.

But in practice, it's unlikely that that many voters would take advantage of tax-deductibility, since middle and lower-income taxpayers generally don't itemize (their existing standard deduction is bigger than their income tax would be under a 3 percent income tax rate).

Many survey respondents may not have realized that they are simply too poor to take advantage of tax deductibility.

And many people who haven't had the experience of itemizing deductions overstate what tax deductibility means. They think it means they can deduct the tax-deductible expense from their TAXES, rather than, as is actually the case, from their taxable INCOME. (That is, they confuse tax-deductible expenses with tax credits).

So the survey result may overstate whether voters actually would be happy with an income tax.

Posted by: Hans Bader on August 9, 2005 3:12 PM