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School finance heresy narrowly defeated

If you’re wondering how the whole consensus on school finance reform thing is going, here’s a clue: The House just passed the same plan it had put forward during the regular session.

House Bill 2 would cut school property taxes by 40 cents per $100 of valuation and spend $2.5 billion for teacher pay raises, new programs and technology.

It would delay the start of school until after Labor Day and replace the 11th-grade standardized test with subject exams.

The legislation also would institute state and local incentive-pay programs for teachers and allow struggling schools to be turned over to private companies. Teacher and education groups are opposed to the measure, which is substantially the same as one passed by the House during the regular legislative session earlier this year.

“This will do more to improve education in the state of Texas than literally anything we’ve done in the last half century,” said bill sponsor Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington.

The bill would lower the maximum school operations tax from $1.50 per $100 property valuation to $1.10 in 2006. With voter approval, districts could impose local enrichment taxes up to 15 cents per $100 of valuation.

It also would limit, but not eliminate, the amount of money that property-wealthy districts have to send to less wealthy districts under the so-called “Robin Hood” provisions of current law.

School districts would be guaranteed an increase of at least 3 percent, an amount critics said would barely cover inflation and doesn’t meet the education needs of the state’s 4.3 million schoolchildren.

“It is arguable whether the money has kept pace with the students, the tests, the mandates,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

Next up is a tax reform plan, which is where the real bones of contention between the House and Senate exist. The Senate was originally inclined to spend more on education, but eventually gave up and bowed to Craddick’s will on the subject.

What the House very nearly did was pass the Democratic alternative, which to say the least would have livened things up a bit.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said the Democrats’ plan would provide more money to three out of four school districts than offered by HB 2. It would provide greater funding for urban districts that have large populations of low-income students.

The Democrats proposed cutting the school operations tax rate by only 20 cents but increasing the homestead exemption from $15,000 to $45,000.

The Democrats said their plan would provide greater tax relief to owners of average-priced homes while the Republican plan would benefit owners of higher-priced homes.

Craddick said last week that he was opposed to the Democrats’ plan because it would not provide a significant tax break to business property owners.

Hochberg’s amendment would have given teachers a $3,200 raise phased in over two years, compared with an average raise of $1,500 in Grusendorf’s bill.

I’m glad that the differences in priority are so clearly defined. While the national Democrats are still figuring out what it means to be an opposition party, the folks here seem to have a pretty decent grip on it. What’s more, they’ve got some traction – twelve Republicans voted for their plan, which forced Speaker Craddick to cast a tiebreaker against it.

Unfortunately, you have to go to the Statesman story to learn a key feature of the Democratic plan.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said the Democrats’ plan would give larger tax cuts to the average homeowner in 144 of the state’s 150 House districts. He also said three-fourths of Texas school districts would see more money under his plan than under the GOP plan.

I’m thinking that may have been a part of the reason that a dozen Republicans crossed over.

More commentary from Greg, Houtopia, Nate, PinkDome, Dos Centavos, and Aaron Pena. Latinos for Texas discusses a different Democratic alternative.

UPDATE: There is a story on the accompanying House tax plan as well. Like its sibling, this is another warmed-over rerun.

A revised tax proposal, similar to Gov. Rick Perry’s plan for property tax relief, surfaced in the House on Tuesday, as Ways and Means Chairman Jim Keffer tried to break an impasse on the tax-writing committee.

The plan includes an increase of 1 cent per dollar in the sales tax, a slightly bigger increase than advocated by Perry, but it incorporates the governor’s more limited approach to business tax changes. It would close loopholes in the corporate franchise tax rather than impose a broader business tax, which the House approved in March.

It also would reduce local school taxes by about 30 cents or 35 cents per $100 valuation over the next two years, the goal sought by Perry.

Keffer, R-Eastland, said the revised plan was a potential “avenue” to a tax agreement during the special session, which the governor called after the House and Senate were unable to agree on a tax overhaul before the regular session ended May 30. The proposal may be discussed by the Ways and Means Committee today.

Keffer said he was trying to “mix and match” ideas to win enough votes to advance a tax bill to the full House for debate. Tax bills must originate in the House, and the special session must end by July 20.

The plan is still in committee. That 1 point increase in the sales tax was a nonstarter in the Senate, and I doubt it will be any more well-received this time around.

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  1. Michael says:

    If the land the state capitol is on would produce more tax revenue as a golf course, can a developer get the Austin City Council to exercise Emminent Domain?

  2. Red Dog says:

    Republicans can’t govern. That’s about the only thing I can say. Props to the dirty dozen who cared more about Texas children than TRM or TAB. I hope this very “special” session ends in a stalemate, just so Hochberg can leave the capital wearing an “Adios, Mofo” shirt on; the Guv could see his best chance of actually governing walking away.