July 27, 2005
What a difference a vote makes

I knew that the Hochberg Amendment nearly passed in the previous special session. I've said all along that agreement among the Perry/Craddick/Dewhurst troika on HB2 and HB3 didn't mean those bills would survive a vote in the House. And I'm still a bit in shock by what happened yesterday.

Speaker Tom Craddick said he wasn't willing to declare the school funding effort dead, but he said he didn't immediately know where a weary House goes from here.

He said he never had the votes for the tax bill, approved in a quickie meeting by a special, all-Republican committee shortly after the second summer session convened last week. He said the education bill failed after Democratic House members, in a rare victory, substituted their school finance plan for a Republican one.

"People are tired of voting. The members are just basically worn-out from voting on these different proposals," Craddick said.


The Senate could revive the school finance bill, but Senate action on the issue was delayed for a second straight day on Tuesday in the face of strong opposition from several senators. They were scheduled to try again on Thursday.

The death of the tax bill, however, could all but doom the tax overhaul because the Republican-led House, under the state constitution, must initiate action on tax legislation.

Craddick said a different tax bill could be filed, but the lopsided defeat of House Bill 3, which would have raised several state taxes in exchange for school tax cuts, signaled a strong anti-tax sentiment in the chamber.


"There's discontent, disagreement and a lot of fatigue. The Legislature needs to recharge," said Austin political consultant Bill Miller.

Perry, who promised school finance changes and property tax cuts during his 2002 campaign and now faces re-election with that pledge unfulfilled, could order lawmakers into another special session, the third of the summer, following a five-month regular session.

But Miller said such an effort would be a waste of time, considering the inability for more than a year now of the Republican governor and Republican legislative leaders to hammer out agreements on school funding and taxes.

"Bringing people back would produce the same result," Miller said. "There's always going to be heartburn among Republicans for tax bills."

First, as Greg has said, a big round of applause for Scott Hochberg for his leadership on this issue. He exposed the Perry plan for the sham it is and gave House members, including 14 Republicans, a real alternative. Thanks to him, there's now a real chance that 90% of the state population will not see their taxes go up so that the remaining 10% can benefit.

I don't expect Perry to give up, but it's clear that any further effort must be a departure from the useless tinkering around the edges that they've been doing these past few weeks. Jim Keffer, the House sponsor of HB3, said "This is not the bill we need at this time" as he voted against his own measure. He wants a broader business tax, something which would probably be able to pass muster with most House members but which Perry can't abide. This Express News article from last week (link via Texas Ed Equity) gives some analysis of this dynamic.

Lawmakers started out with broader tax reform ideas that would have involved more businesses, but the House and Senate couldn't agree. Perry suggested simply plugging loopholes in the franchise tax on corporations as an achievable goal.

But doing so has provoked opposition from affected businesses that don't want to be singled out.

An estimated 10,000 Texas companies use those legal loopholes to escape business taxes, including the San Antonio Express-News.

Express-News Publisher Lawrence Walker Jr. said executives of Texas daily newspapers agreed last year not to oppose efforts to close the corporate franchise loophole under one condition: "Everybody gets taxed."

"To put a bill in, which still exempts the law firms and the real estate firms and the oil and gas partnerships and the medical doctors, is just egregious," Walker said.

Closing the franchise tax loopholes would cost the Express-News "several million" dollars a year, he said.

Portions of the business lobby would retreat from its opposition to the proposed tax bill after all businesses are treated the same, Walker said.

"It's just about fairness and equity," he said.

Walker recently expressed his opposition to Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who voted for the bill to close the franchise tax loopholes without expanding the tax to business partnerships.

Wentworth said he agrees with Walker and favors a low-rate business tax applied to all but sole proprietor, or "mom and pop"-type businesses.

But Wentworth said the "speculation around here is that there's a lot of limited liability partnerships oil and gas partnerships in Midland, Texas and the speaker is not going to allow them to be taxed."

A real debate on that might be worth keeping this session alive and taking another crack at things. If we can't have that, then frankly it's time for someone to make a sine die motion.

Finally, the Biggest Whine award goes to Kent Grusendorf.

Mr. Grusendorf laid partial blame for defeat of the bill on school districts and education groups, who were almost universally opposed to the original measure because of what they complained was inadequate funding.

"I wish they had been for something instead of against everything," Mr. Grusendorf said.

They weren't against everything. Just against getting screwed. Maybe some day you'll understand that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 27, 2005 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

You might want to check out myDD today. He has a really good succinct summation of what happened in Texas yesterday that you might want to link to and comment upon. And I think it is encouraging that stuff is so screwed up in Texas now that it is attracting the attention of some real Lefty National Blog Stars like myDD.

Cheers! Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner

Posted by: Elizabeth on July 27, 2005 8:44 AM

The problem is, if the courts toss Robin Hood out the window, then what?

The bottom line is that that state has high sales taxes and high property taxes already. Relief in one area will cause the other to become even higher, and among the highest in the country.

Maybe the state should work with local governments to change how property taxes are paid? In reality, people notice a property tax more than income tax because income tax is withheld from the paycheck and paid frequently in smaller amounts.

People don't notice $100 a week out of their paycheck like they notice a $5,000 tax bill at the end of the year. Finding ways to pay property taxes more like income taxes doesn't provide tax relief, but it might reduce some of the angst about paying them. After all, despite the high property tax in Texas, it's still less than a lot of people in other states would pay on income tax on a middle-class salary.

Posted by: Tim on July 27, 2005 8:56 AM

"Mr. Grusendorf laid partial blame for defeat of the bill on school districts and education groups, who were almost universally opposed to the original measure because of what they complained was inadequate funding.

"I wish they had been for something instead of against everything," Mr. Grusendorf said."

In fact, these so-called "education groups" were "for" something: they were "for" undeserved teacher raises, undeserved administrator raises, totally unjustified increases in education expenditures, and higher taxes, and they were "for" defeating legislation that would move school board elections to November to coincide with the general election.

What the Dallas Morning News referred to as "education groups" is really a collection of special interest groups whose self-interestedness is as virulent and anti-social as any group of 19th century corporate robber barons and whose collective pre-disposition to screw everybody else --- especially taxpayers, parents and students --- when it comes to education policy and spending issues is legendary, even for this state.

Whether it's the Texas Assocation of School Boards, the Texas Association of School Administrators, or Gayle Fallon and the Houston FTA, you can bet that, whatever it is and whatever good it will do, if it doesn't feather their nests and drive up education costs, they will be against it.

I think it's a stretch to term these groups simply as "education groups" --- they should be referred to as "the education lobby", or as "education special interest groups."

Posted by: ttyler5 on July 27, 2005 1:13 PM

ttyler5 obviously doesn't have the faintest f***ing clue about education, teachers, or teachers' unions in the State of Texas. He seems to be completely unaware that teacher pay is lower in Texas than in almost every other state. He clearly knows nothing of the shortfalls in many districts that prevent them from buying textbooks, let alone being able to fund enrichment activities. He doesn't see how most teachers buy hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars worth of supplies for their students out of their own meager salaries every year. And he surely has no clue about the difficulty districts have in hiring and retaining qualified and committed teachers, given wages that are well below average wages for college graduates and, in some cases, only marginally above the poverty level.

I don't know if he lives in a school district that's fortunate enough not to have any of these problems, or if he's just another ignorant blowhard a**hole. I suspect the latter, but either way, he clearly doesn't know what he's talking about.

Posted by: Kenneth Fair on July 27, 2005 3:03 PM

Well, I know teacher pay isn't high in Texas, but here, just as in all other states, the trend in spending per student, adjusted for inflation, is up, up and up some more:

Spending per pupil

So maybe the teachers deserve a raise. But we still need to know where the rest of this record-level spending per student is going. Why do we hear about poverty now and not 40 years ago, when per-student inflation-adjusted spending was about one-third of what it is today?

Posted by: Tim on July 27, 2005 6:48 PM

Kenneth Fair,

:^D :^D :^D Dude, don't cuss at me and lecture me about "shortfalls" in our public school districts, you need to turn your attention to those "education" people who are running them --

--- because the only "shortfalls" in Texas public school districts are the incompetents who are mismanaging them on a daily basis, and the only people getting "enriched" by our public school systems are the people people whose companies contract to finance, design, construct and supply the facilities where the chaos takes place. :^D

Just for starters:

Concerning those districts where they "can't buy textbooks" each year ---

1) In each of these districts, what is the annual salary of the super? How many times %100 is his/her salary compared to the highest paid, most experienced teacher in the district? What are his/her perks? Does he/her have: a car provided by the school district; a home provided by the school district; full insurance coverage, including full medical, on his/her family covered by the school district; one or more credit cards, covered by the school district; a buy-out clause, covered by the school district; an automatic raise each year?

How many people does he have on his primary office staff? What are they paid in comparison to the teachers, and what are their perks and benefits compared to the teachers?

2) How many assistant supers does he/her have? What are their salaries and perks? How many times %100 are their salaries compared to the highest paid, most experienced teacher in the district?

3) Below these "top tier" administrators: how many administrative departments do these districts have? Do they have a "Tax Department"? Do they have a "Public Information" office? Do they publish and mail, for example, a quarterly tabloid mailing to every address in the school district, the yearly cost of which is equal to the yearly salaries of three mid-level teachers? How many "assistant principals" do they have for each principal? What are their salaries, perks and buy-out arrangements? How many suppprt personnel do each of these administrator have, and what are their salaries and perks? How many "department heads" or "directors of special programs" do they have and what are their salaries and perks,as well as that of their support personnel? Have they attempted to streamline or merge administrative departments? Have they attempted to consolidate the district's operating accounts or reorganize district operations in any way? In fact, what have these districts done to reduce levels of administration between line staff and the super?

4)Do they have an office of the "Sports Director"? How many times %100 is his salary compared to the highest paid, most experienced teacher in the district? What are his/her perks and benefits? Does he/her have a car provided by the district (though in this case it is usually a truck or SUV.) Does he/her have: full insurance coverage including medical; credit cards; a buy out clause; an automatic raise? How many people on office staff, and what are their salaries and perks? How many assistant sports directors does he/she have, and what are their salaries and perks? What is the support staff for this operation, what are their salaries and perks?

5) Do they have a stadium/stadiums? What is the bonded indebtness on the facility/facilities? How many cents on the facilities tax does this represent? How does this comapre with classrom construction spending? What are the operations and maintenance costs of the sports facilities? Does the school buy the uniforms for the football team? Does the school buy the band instruments for the band?

6) Do they have a " maintenance budget" and how much of this budget is actually spent on "maintenance" each year, how much is a pad for district discretionary spending? How many employees do they have in "maintenance", how much are they paid and just what are their qualifications, experience, work records and benefits packages? Does it cost more to have them do an AC or plumbing or roofing repair job, or is it cheaper to contract with a local AC or plumbing or roofing company? If they contract with a local AC or plumbing or roofing company, what are they being charged and how do these charges compare with that AC or plumbing or roofing company's charges for similar repair jobs in the community? Do they keep a tool and parts inventory on hand? If they do, how efficiently is it purchased, organized, and utilized and what is the loss of inventory through theft each year? Do they have a vendor trade-in program on used equipment?

6) How is the food services department organized and operated, and how much of the budget has been and is currently being used to hide an annual budget pad?

7) How is the transporation department and bus routing organized and operated?

In fact, do these districts even have transportation and facility-use standards of any kind? An energy management program? A bid process for legal services? An aggressive Medicaid reimbursement policy and someone to carry it out? Competitive bidding for health insurance? ...

Shall we continue, because there about ten thousand more items ... ?


Posted by: ttyler5 on July 28, 2005 2:39 AM

I agree that many school districts are mismanaged and top-heavy. You won't get any argument from me on that, and I'd be happy to kick in some more examples.

But all the things you just listed have nothing to do with teacher salaries and teacher's unions, and everything to do with a state and federal legislature obsessed with imposing more and more expensive, unfunded mandates on school districts in the name of "improving education"; with school boards more interested in doing things that look good rather than things that work; and with a public that is fundamentally uninterested in paying attention to schools or paying the funds it requires to properly educate children.

Posted by: Kenneth Fair on July 28, 2005 1:44 PM

Kenneth ( or do you prefer Ken?), glad to see we are on a more cordial basis, that sure beats the heck out of "a**hole"! :^D :^D :^D

Kenneth, I must insist that *everything* I mentioned above --- as well as the 10,000 more performance review items I mentioned but did not list --- has *everything* to do with how much teachers are paid; the antics of teacher union leaders especially HFTA's anti-reform roadblocking under Gayle Fallon; unfunded mandates; school board stupidities and showboating; and the proper financing of education.

For instance, most of just the handful of items I listed above are in fact very large school distict budget items, massive when you consider them in terms of all Texas public school districts combined.

And the percentage of waste is very large in these budget areas and many more.

In each school district it is in the millions of dollars, statewide it is in the billions of dollars.

This is why only half of the operations expenditures of Texas school districts go directly into classroom ed, and if you look at actual classroom education expenditures in relation to the *total* amount of money Texas spends on education (this would include the gigantic misappropiations for such facilities as multimillion dollar football stadiums, etc.) it's far, far less than half.

Every mismanaged, misapplied, misappropriated dollar wasted in these areas is a dollar taken out of the classroom --- out of potential teacher pay and benefits and direct instruction of children in foundational skills and knowledge -- and just thrown away.

To put it another way, the public is already paying the funds neccessary to educate our kids --- the funds, however, are being misappropriated, misapplied, mismanaged and just flat out wasted on a massive scale.

Think of public education spending in Texas, along with highway spending, as our state's equivalent of federal defense spending --- only instead of $1000 per roll toilet paper and $1200 toilet seats, we have $95,000 a year athletic directors and $150,000 a year supers.

Posted by: ttyler5 on July 28, 2005 3:12 PM