The state of education

Awhile back I asked When is a tax increase not a tax increase?

Answer: When you can get someone else to do the tax-increasing for you, as the Lege is fixing to do by cutting $1 billion out of their education allocation, thus passing the bucket to individual school districts. Those that can raise tax assessments likely will; those that are already maxed out will either agitate for higher property valuations or start sharpening the knife.

Between this and George Bush’s 1997 property tax cut, there’s a lot of pressure on local school districts and their rising populations to find money for classrooms. So what does our Lege propose to do to help? Why, slash the maximum amount that an appraisal can be raised by, of course.

The bills would lower the maximum increase on a home’s appraised value from the current 10 percent. Freshman Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, has proposed cutting the cap to 5 percent. Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, has filed a bill to drop the limit to 1 percent.

Both bills would require that Texas voters approve constitutional amendments before the cap could be changed in 2004.


Proponents argue that lowering the cap will not preclude elected officials from raising tax rates to generate the money they need.

In fact, Wong and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt say bringing the cap down would force accountability on local officials, who have reaped record revenue increases in recent years without having to take the political risk of increasing tax rates.

“It’s really aimed to help the taxpayers,” Wong says. “But at the same time, requires taxing entities, if they need more money, to raise their rates.”

Bettencourt said local governments have not altered their taxation policies to reflect economic fluctuations.

“What is happening is simply that they (local governments) are plastering the homeowners for their overbudgeting or for their spending,” Bettencourt says. “This is the way we’re really forced to go about it because, over the last few years, there has been no control over government spending.”

Amazing, and I say this as someone who paid an awful lot in property and HISD taxes last year. The level of denial is incredible. Has anyone told Paul frigging Bettencourt that many school districts have already maxed out their tax rates? Not that he cares, of course – he wants vouchers, and damn the consequences.

I’m just gona say this once, because there’s a greater chance that I’ll be the next “Joe Millionaire” than of this happening in my lifetime, but here it is anyway: Texas needs a state income tax.

We get revenue in this state from various fees, various corporate taxes (some of which are extremely sensitive to volatile market forces), sales taxes, and property taxes. Sales taxes place a big burden on low income folks. Property taxes are felt most strongly by middle income folks. There’s nothing that puts a remotely comparable burden on high-income households. As such, especially in a year when sales tax and Natural Gas Production Tax revenues are in the crapper, budget crises ensue with no obvious answers for them.

Oh, and by the way: One of the biggest and fastest-growing revenue sources for Texas in recent years has been federal aid. What are the odds that trend will continue this year?

I can only hope that the system isn’t irrevocably broken by the time someone gets around to trying to fix it.

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2 Responses to The state of education

  1. Tim Richardson says:

    After reading your comments I searched for info about tax rates and it seems that the Texas legislature has imposed a cap of $1.50/$100 on school taxes statewide. Yet HISD is charging me $1.58 and claims to have one of the lower rates in Harris County. If they can blast through the tax cap with impunity, surely it can’t be as much of a problem as it seems!

  2. Lisa says:

    I am a young student and I want to get invloved by protesting the tax hike for Harris county. What do I do, who do I contact? Thanks!

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