By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS / June 20, 2005
AUSTIN, Tex., June 19 (AP) - Texas legislators will return to the Capitol for a special session beginning on Tuesday following Gov. Rick Perry's veto of the state's public education budget.
School financing has bedeviled Texas lawmakers for years. The session will be their fourth effort to find a solution in the last three years, including the last two regular sessions. Mr. Perry also called a special session last spring, but it ended in failure.
Last year, after hundreds of school districts sued the state, a state district judge, John Dietz, declared the financing system unconstitutional, arguing that it depended too heavily on property taxes imposed by local school districts. Judge Dietz ordered state financing for schools to cease by October 2005 if the system was not fixed by then.
The state has appealed the decision to the Texas Supreme Court, and a July 6 date has been set for oral arguments. Any action the Legislature takes in a special session is likely to be a factor in deliberations, but the court could still uphold the ruling or apply it to new legislation.
Lawmakers initially said they wanted to cut school property taxes by half, but finding additional revenue to compensate for lower property taxes and still invest more money in schools has proved difficult.
Past proposals have included a tax on snack food, increasing the state's 6.25 percent sales tax and a new tax on bottled water.
Most of the new money is likely to come from restructuring the state's business tax, which most businesses do not pay because of loopholes.
Mr. Perry had previously said he would call lawmakers back only if the leaders of the House and the Senate were ready to agree on a plan. But the House speaker, Tom Craddick of Midland, like Mr. Perry a Republican, said in an interview on Friday with a Midland television station that leaders "have no agreement or no plan that we've agreed upon at all at this point."
Abe Saavedra, superintendent of the Houston schools, whose district has cut more than $100 million from its budget in the last five years as revenue from the state declined, said he applauded Mr. Perry's "courage in approaching this issue, and we urge the Legislature to act swiftly and responsibly to give Texas children the kind of education funding they deserve."