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Is it time for a statewide property tax?


State Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, on Tuesday breathed some new life into a proposal to enact a statewide school property tax to address Texas’ persistent education funding woes.

“We’ve never made a change in the school finance system without a gun to our head,” Duncan said at a Senate subcommittee hearing on public school finances. “Instead of the court putting the gun to the head, we do it ourselves as a responsible Legislature to try to solve a decades-old problem.”

A statewide school property tax would not be a solution to Texas’ current budget crisis, he acknowledged, in part because it would require voters to approve a constitutional amendment. The senators meeting Tuesday have been tasked with figuring out how to reduce school funding by $9.3 billion.

Under the proposal, the state would collect a property tax in lieu of the local school property tax and then redistribute that money along with other state dollars according to school funding formulas. It wouldn’t increase the property tax, just change to whom taxpayers wrote the check.

It should be noted that the ruling in the last school finance lawsuit, the one that ultimately led to the 2006 special session and the property tax cut/business margins tax, was because the Supreme Court determined that the state’s $1.50 cap on property taxes amounted to a “de facto” statewide property tax, which is unconstitutional. The changes made in the 2006 session complied with this ruling by giving local districts more control over the tax rate. At least, that was the idea. At this point, I don’t know that anyone could seriously claim it’s worked as intended. Creating a statewide tax would obviously deal with the root issue of the previous lawsuit, and it would address the concern that many districts now have that the funding formula that was imposed in 2006 is unequal, but as described here it still wouldn’t deal with the fact that school districts are being starved to death, and it still wouldn’t fix the structural deficit caused by the inadequacy of the margins tax. Seems to me fixing the margins tax, which would have an immediate effect as well as a long-term one and which would only need majority support and no referendum, is the more sensible way to go. Maybe if nothing else having this conversation can help that sink in for those who need to accept it. Trail Blazers and Abby Rapoport have more, while Burka posts on a related matter.

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