May 09, 2006
One week to go in Austin

Just a quick roundup of special session coverage, from the Chron, Statesman, Morning News, Express News, and Star Telegram. Key points, from the Star Telegram:

On a 21-10 vote, the Texas Senate adopted House Bill 4, which will raise another $43 million in sales taxes on used cars. The House also gave its separate approval to the same bill, meaning it now goes to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature.

Earlier, both chambers adopted House Bill 3, which will raise about $3.4 billion in new business taxes. That legislation, which critics call the largest expansion of business taxes in Texas history, also awaits Perry's signature.

But Republican leaders on Monday remained divided on House Bill 1, which would lower property taxes for school operations by about 11.3 percent next year, and by one third in 2008. Another bill also designed to keep a lid on property taxes -- House Bill 2 -- also remains in legislative limbo.


House Bill 1, the bill that lowers property taxes, has been approved by the Texas House as well as the key committee in the Texas Senate. But Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, has objected to an amendment added by a fellow GOP lawmaker. Shapiro has promised to use parliamentary rules to keep the legislation from going to the full Senate. Negotiations between Dewhurst, Shapiro and other GOP lawmakers continue.

House Bill 2, legislation that would commit new revenue from increases in state taxes for the nearly exclusive purpose of lowering school property taxes, remains in limbo between the House and Senate. House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has said a version of the bill adopted by Senate lawmakers violates technical rules of the special session. Dewhurst said those technical objections don't make sense to him, but he's not yet sure of his next move. "I'm talking to senators right now about whether we send it back," to the House, he said.

House Bill 3, the bill replaces the loophole-ridden franchise tax with a tax on gross receipts, has been approved separately by the House and Senate and sent to the governor. A spokeswoman for Perry said it's a good bet he'll sign it.

House Bill 4, which would tie the sales tax collected on used cars to the car's blue-book value, also became eligible for gubernatorial approval with separate approval Monday by both the House and Senate.

House Bill 5, which would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1, has been approved by the House and by the Senate Finance Committee. It could come up for debate Tuesday or Wednesday in the full Senate.

From the Express News, regarding HB1:

At the very least, the Senate could adopt the House version of property tax relief, which does not contain teacher pay raises, teacher incentive pay, a later school year start date and the equity provision.

But Dewhurst, who has been promoting school improvement in TV commercials, said he would "try to persuade" reluctant senators that elevating equity between poor and rich school districts, giving teachers a pay raise of at least $2,000 and increasing school accountability standards make sense.

All Texas teacher groups contend that any pay raise less than $3,000 would not be meaningful. They're pushing to increase pay closer to the national average, which is about $6,700 higher than the average Texas teacher pay.

The major sticking point for Shapiro, who apparently has enough votes to block Senate debate on HB 1, involves efforts by Democrats and Republican lawmakers from property-poor areas to increase school equity.

All school districts would have to raise property taxes to access additional revenue for "enrichment" not considered part of the basic curriculum, but Shapiro says the provision would require scores of rich school districts to raise tax rates significantly more than other districts to get that money.

In other words, the Get Out Of Dodge plan is still potentially viable, though what that means for HBs 3 and 4 is unclear.

Finally, from the Statesman:

David Thompson, a lawyer for the school districts that won the court case , said the proposals provide some discretion for districts. But he added that school officials are withholding judgment on whether the measures provide enough leeway to satisfy the court.

"There are many things in there that are positives, and I think districts recognize that," he said. "But I think there are some honest conceptual differences over what really is meaningful discretion."

I'll say this again: It ain't over till the judges and the plaintiffs are satisfied. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here's Harvey Kronberg on the current standoff (thanks for the reminder, Kimberly). Eye on Williamson had flagged that piece yesterday.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 09, 2006 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

They're pushing to increase pay closer to the national average, which is about $6,700 higher than the average Texas teacher pay.

Which makes sense where the cost of living is at the national average. Where the cost of living is considerably lower than average, asking for the national average is asking to be overpaid relative to teachers elsewhere in higher-cost areas.

Posted by: Tim on May 9, 2006 8:55 AM