Thursday, August 04, 2005

Eight said aye to tax plan

In this Austin-Statesman piece, W. Gardner Selby explains why eight said aye to tax plan last week. -Angela

Thursday, August 04, 2005

While I was stuck in traffic (California), the Texas House jammed its latest tax plan last week, leaving the summer's second special session on schools in fresh limbo.

To be fair, House members voted 124-8 against House Bill 3 — swapping expanded sales, cigarette and business taxes for lower school property taxes — only after Republican leaders realized that it wouldn't survive anyway.

Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, said members handling the proposal quietly told colleagues before the vote that they were free to heed their consciences. Why? Fewer than 50 members were poised to vote yes.

He said two factors reduced House support: a failure to create a tax including businesses in the service sector and disappointment that resulting revenue wouldn't drive huge cuts in local property taxes. A companion measure raising school aid perished earlier.

"We wanted to make it not a hard vote for them," Swinford said of relieving members of any obligation to the leadership.

Members who still voted aye, all Republicans, evidently wanted the House to play its constitutional role of initiating tax measures.

Without higher state taxes, they reasoned, property taxes won't drop. How's that for 2006 campaign fuel?

Among seven of the yes voters I reached, Rep. Phil King of Weatherford said: "I'm going to vote for any tax relief I can. I'm going to be in a lot of trouble back home if I don't."

Rep. Jim Jackson of Carrollton reacted to the House inaction: "I've been to two county fairs and a dog fight, and I've never seen anything like it. Embarrassing."

Rep. Doc Anderson of Waco: "Uncalled for."

Rep. Bill Keffer of Dallas, whose brother, Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, sponsored the plan yet then voted no: "A goofy way to run a railroad."

Rep. Jodie Laubenberg of Parker: "At least we didn't start going after each other with fire tongs and canes."

Reps. Joe Crabb of Atascocita and Geanie Morrison of Victoria stressed desires for lower property taxes, with Morrison hoping for legislative results by January.

King said lobby groups circulated powerful conflicting messages on what taxes to touch. "Everybody is just being real, real careful."

To get momentum, Swinford said, leaders must replace the corporate franchise tax with a tax taking in more businesses in a package funding sizable property tax cuts.

"Or we're not going to get out of this."


Sharp ambition: No word on whether former Comptroller John Sharp of Austin will seek the Democratic gubernatorial nod, though sidekick Kelly Fero recently opined online that Sharp has the "bipartisan appeal, the experience, and the proven vote-getting record to beat" GOP Gov. Rick Perry. Unsaid: Perry edged Sharp for lieutenant governor in 1998. And Sharp would be the underdog in '06.; 445-3644

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