Sunday, July 10, 2005

Governor Takes Plan for Schools on Road

July 9, 2005, 6:18PM

Governor Takes Plan for Schools on Road
Perry's aides say education proposal is not motivated by politics or his bid for re-election
Associated Press

Some of the main elements of Gov. Rick Perry's school finance proposal:
•Closing loopholes in the franchise tax on businesses.
•Raising the cigarette tax by $1 per pack, up from 41 cents.
•Increasing the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 6.95 percent.
•Cutting the school property tax rate to $1.20 by 2007 and capping rate at $1.05 by 2010, though without funding after 2007.

AUSTIN - It's a campaign kind of summer for Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Before he asks for Texans' votes for his 2006 re-election bid, Perry is campaigning for passage of a public school finance plan, now that the Legislature is back in session.

Besides huddling at the Capitol with fellow Republican leaders, Perry has traveled the state stumping for his education proposal. He's even spending $400,000 of his own campaign money for statewide radio ads urging legislative results.

It's an important undertaking for the governor, who faces a Republican primary challenge next year from Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. If lawmakers don't reach a school solution, Strayhorn is sure to keep attacking Perry over it, alleging lack of leadership.

It also could be a tough political position for Perry if Texas is forced into school funding action by the Texas Supreme Court, which heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit between school districts and the state.

Perry's aides insist his motivation is the best interest of the schools and the children.

"Politics does not play a role here for the governor," said spokesman Robert Black.

In June, Perry took a major political risk and used two of his biggest powers as Texas governor: the veto and the ability to call a special legislative session. Perry vetoed $35 billion in public education funding and called a 30-day special session.

He proposed his own school funding plan, describing it as a compromise between the plans approved by the House and Senate in the spring regular session. The two chambers never agreed on middle ground.

Then Perry began using what he calls the bully pulpit of the governor's office. He traveled to 11 cities in three days to push his plan in public appearances.

Critics of Perry's proposal, including Strayhorn and Democrats, say it won't raise the money it promises or that is doesn't strike a fair balance between businesses and consumers.

Even some skeptical Republicans worry it's only a short-term fix and would force lawmakers to address school finance again in 2007.

"I think most of the senators would prefer to solve this now so we won't have to take it up again," said Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, president of the Senate.

Perry's camp says school finance will have to be addressed by future legislators because it's never solved once and for all. His aides also say critics, such as Strayhorn, should come up with their own proposals.

Perry's plan won a legislative victory when the House approved a similar business tax.

But many educators who lobby the Legislature would rather wait to see what the Supreme Court decides. It could take weeks or months for the justices to rule on the state's appeal of a lower-court ruling that declared Texas' school finance system unconstitutional.

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