The headline Perry May Put School Reform On Back Burner pretty much says it all.
Gov. Rick Perry wants the Legislature, in a special session this spring, to cut school property taxes by about one-third but postpone action on other education changes until next year, a legislator who met with the governor said Monday.
Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said he believed a commission appointed by Perry may recommend increases in sales and cigarette taxes, as well as a new business tax, to pay for the property tax reductions.
"The governor was saying we're not going to do any (school) reforms this session," Wentworth said, despite calls by House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for changes in how education dollars are spent.
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt on Monday confirmed the governor's meeting with the San Antonio legislators but declined to say what specifically was discussed.
"The governor has indicated that his primary interest and focus right now will be on addressing the Supreme Court ruling," Walt said.
She said other items could be added to the agenda after the finance changes are addressed. The governor sets the agenda for a special session, which can last as long as 30 days.
Perry already had indicated he wanted to avoid a special session fight over spending tax dollars for private school vouchers, although he and many other Republicans support the idea.
Walt said the governor hasn't decided whether to include another controversial subject — new limits on property tax appraisals — in the special session's call. She said he also still supports that proposal, which, like vouchers, has failed in recent sessions.
Walt said the exact size of a property tax cut was still a "point of discussion," although Sharp has been advocating a one-third reduction.
That would lower the $1.50 per $100 valuation cap for school maintenance taxes to about $1. Many schools districts are at or near the $1.50 cap, which helped prompt the Supreme Court ruling.
Sharp has said a reduction of that size would require the Legislature to raise more than $5 billion a year in new state taxes or other revenue.
Craddick, in a recent speech, continued to push for other educational changes, including a uniform school start date and tying at least some teacher pay raises to performance.
But spokeswoman Alexis DeLee said Monday that Craddick "has said all along it's up to Perry to determine the call (special session agenda)." She said the speaker also was awaiting the commission's recommendations.
And if the alternative to a special session that only focuses on property tax cuts is a special session that includes Tom Craddick's school "reform" agenda, I'd pick Door Number One and not look back.
All that said, my concern is that without the constraint of having to worry about actually paying for schools during the session, the pressure will be on maximizing the tax cuts based the current financial snapshot. Once that happens, their hands will be greatly tied when they finally do get around to fixing school finance, which you may recall was the impetus for the special session in the first place. With the current mood in the Capitol being flush and with statewide elections on the ballot, it's not at all hard to imagine a shortsighted and irresponsible tax cut getting rammed through. Even if you think that the Lege will have the foresight to keep some money sequestered for school funding, it's not like there aren't other things to pay for.
Well, at least this answers my question about how Perry will react to the TTRC's recommendations. As Linus Van Pelt once said, there's no problem so big and so complicated that you can't run away from it.
On a related note the Statesman has an article about how the Democratic gubernatorial candidates are more willing to deal with school finance than Perry is. I'm mostly linking to it for this bit of unintentional comedy:
Perry spokesman Robert Black challenged the Democratic candidates to detail their plans for school finance reform.
"Governor Perry is the only candidate in this race who has put forward a school finance plan and a property tax cut that is paid for," Black said.