Fri, Jul. 15, 2005
Please Dull the Pain
Fort Worh Star-Telegram
After abandoning their goal of modernizing the state's tax code and putting public schools on firm financial footing, lawmakers in Austin are left to tinker with the stopgap measures they've adopted.
Expect legislators and their leaders to hail their efforts as a success, but it's not true. The best that Texans can hope for now is that some of the most harmful parts of the pending legislation will be removed before final passage:
• A House-passed bill would cap the amount of local property tax money that wealthy school districts would have to give up to equalize funding with property-poor. This provision is a multimillion-dollar windfall for the super-rich Highland Park enclave of Dallas, and it was openly designed to be so.
Some lawmakers have floated proposals to reduce or disguise its effects, but the Texas Legislature should not approve such an obvious ploy to deliver even more financial advantage to those wealthiest school districts that already have so many advantages.
• The House would apply the sales tax to motor vehicle repairs. Wealthy people who tend to drive newer cars have no worry. But those Texans who cannot afford to buy a new car every few years will face real hardship when a big repair bill is made even bigger by sales tax.
Measures like this have been included so the Legislature can afford to order big local school property tax cuts. Better to back off on the property tax cut than to approve sales taxes on car repairs.
• The House would reserve 15 percent of all future increases in available state revenue to pay for further local property tax reduction. It may indeed be good for future lawmakers to help school districts reduce their local taxes, but that should be a decision that they make after they have weighed all of the state's needs at that time.
• Textbook funding -- for books already ordered and sitting in warehouses -- still hasn't been approved. Buy the books, for goodness' sake.
• The House would increase the sales tax by a full penny on the dollar, while the Senate would hold the increase to a half-cent. An increase in alcohol taxes, like what's in the Senate plan, should be used to help hold down the sales tax increase.
• A modest increase in the homestead exemption -- like the $7,500 increase proposed by Gov. Rick Perry -- would help spread more of the benefits of proposed property tax cuts to lower-income Texans.
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