79th LEGISLATURE: SPECIAL SESSION II
Craddick radio spots attack Senate school finance plan
House speaker's direct message to Texans displeases lieutenant governor.
By Jason Embry
Friday, August 12, 2005
House Speaker Tom Craddick is running radio advertisements across Texas attacking the Senate's position on school finance reform, an unusual move for a man who says he considers himself a representative of his Midland-based district and not a statewide officeholder.
The ads were unveiled Thursday as one part of the school finance logjam finally appeared to shift: Textbook publishers agreed to begin shipping overdue books to Texas classrooms as soon as school districts start putting in their orders.
"We will ship these textbooks based on public assurances by the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker that the textbooks will be funded by the state," said Collin Earnst, a spokesman for Houghton Mifflin.
State leaders have said they will find a way to pay for the books, even if they have to go outside the normal legislative process.
The lack of progress on the larger pieces of the school finance puzzle, however, was illustrated by Craddick's radio spot.
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the head of the Senate and Craddick's fellow Republican, called the commercial misleading.
The two leaders have traded barbs throughout the Legislature's eight-month debate over changing the way the state pays for public schools. And if their chambers do not agree in the next week on major school and tax proposals, the third legislative session of 2005 will end without changes to the school finance system.
The Craddick ad criticizes the school plan that the Senate approved earlier this week because it does not include measures important to some House Republicans, such as a cap on the percentage of property-tax dollars that an extremely wealthy school district must share with the rest of the state.
"I don't believe the House should be a party to passing legislation that doesn't contain proper education reforms," Craddick says in his ad.
Last week, Craddick called the current session a waste of time and money because lawmakers would not be able to agree on school and tax proposals.
As the Legislature struggles, the Texas Supreme Court is reviewing a ruling that the current funding system is unconstitutional.
"In the event that the Texas Supreme Court issues an opinion requiring some action, the Legislature will make the necessary adjustments," Craddick says. "However, we will not continue to put more money into a system without the reforms to fix it."
Craddick spokeswoman Alexis DeLee said the speaker decided to run the spots, paid for with his campaign funds, because people throughout Texas have expressed confusion about the status of the school finance debate.
Gov. Rick Perry has run ads this summer urging Texans to press lawmakers to come up with a new plan and has suggested that lawmakers could face problems in next year's elections if they don't reduce property taxes.
Dewhurst spokesman Mark Miner defended the Senate proposal, saying it contains reforms and additional school spending tied to account- ability.
"Speaker Craddick's time and energy would be better spent on solving the state's educational needs than on unprecedented and misleading advertisements," Miner said.
Also Thursday, Craddick sent a House committee a new plan to trade lower property taxes for higher sales and business taxes. He described it as similar to a plan pushed by Perry, as well as a plan that was soundly defeated on the House floor last month.
Craddick said he was unsure whether he could gather enough support for the plan to bring it up for a vote.
Additional material from The Associated Press.
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