April 17 is S-Day in Austin
You heard it first yesterday, and now it's official: The long-awaited, much-dreaded special session on school finance begins April 17.
"This special session provides legislators of both parties a rare opportunity to significantly reduce property taxes, make substantial reforms to the franchise tax so it is fairer and broader, and ensure our schools have a reliable and constitutional stream of revenue," Perry said.
This will be the Legislature's fifth attempt to fix the public school finance system since 2004. Lawmakers failed to overhaul the system in the regular session of 2005 and in three special sessions in 2004 and 2005.
The big difference this time is they are faced with a June 1 deadline to repair a school system financed with local property taxes. The Texas Supreme Court has ruled the system amounts to a statewide property tax prohibited by the state constitution.
To meet the court mandate, the Legislature essentially will have two options. Lawmakers can pass a massive state tax increase, or they can spend the state's $3 billion-plus surplus to buy down property taxes and shove the problem off to a future Legislature.
I'm curious about that. Did the Court's ruling, in which the June 1 deadline was set, allow for such procrastination? Remember, both the plaintiffs
and the state's Solicitor General
have read the opinion to mean that more money is needed for schools, and that merely lowering the $1.50 cap is not a sufficient remedy to the finding that the current system is an unconstitutional statewide property tax. Unless someone with insider knowledge tells me otherwise, I am not convinced that throwing surplus money at this in April so as to defer the real work until 2007 will be considered acceptable by the Court.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 17, 2006 to Budget ballyhoo
As I understand it, the ruling required the state to spend enough on public schools so that the local districts had meaningful discretion in setting their tax rates. Spending the surplus would give them that discretion, but only for one year.
If I were forced to bet, I'd say the court would let it slide for a year. If the Lege procrastinates, and the court doesn't let it slide, we'll be back in special session again - just as the elections are approaching. I don't think a GOP court would do that to a GOP legislature, but it's far from certain.
Texas politics has been such fun since the GOP took over, eh?