Friday, August 05, 2005

Ogden floats state property tax again

The real champion in our state for a statewide property tax is Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso). I agree. School finance should be taken to the voters, but there should also be a massive educational effort so that voters can see just how beneficial this would be.


Central Texas Republican revives idea that did not catch on in regular session.
By Jason Embry
Thursday, August 04, 2005

With the Texas House unable to pass a swap in state taxes, a high-ranking senator has put back on the table a plan to give voters a direct say in school finance reform.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, proposed three amendments to the Texas Constitution this week in an effort to break the Legislature's stalemate.

Two property-tax measures try to address a state district judge's ruling that the current maximum property tax rate of $1.50 per $100 of assessed value for school operations is a constitutionally forbidden statewide property tax because local school boards have little choice but to set taxes at the maximum rate.

One would authorize a statewide property tax to replace most of the local property taxes used to pay for schools, and the $1.50 tax rate would be cut by at least 35 cents. Or lawmakers could opt for a separate measure that would lower the $1.50 cap to $1.25 and would add language to the constitution saying it should not be considered a state tax.

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature and a simple majority of voters.

The Legislature, now in its second special session, has been looking for a way all year to cut property taxes while raising state taxes to replace that revenue. But tax proposals must start in the House, which has been unable to agree on one.

Ogden said a constitutional amendment can start in the Senate. The Finance Committee, which he chairs, is likelyto review the proposals today.

"Basically that's the only choice the Senate has," Ogden said. "We can't take up a tax bill; there's no tax bill to take up. Our only choice is to go to the people."

The third amendment that Ogden proposed would allow a tax on business partnerships' income as part of the state franchise tax.

In an effort to broaden the base of a corporate franchise tax that most Texas businesses do not pay, Ogden and other lawmakers tried earlier this year to subject partnerships to the tax. But they ran into fears among lawmakers that doing so would violate the section of the constitution that forbids a personal income tax unless there is a public vote.

The property tax cuts that Ogden proposes would not take effect for two years, meaning lawmakers would revisit the tax-shift issue during their 2007 session to decide which taxes to raise to replace those dollars.

Senate leaders pushed a state tax earlier this year but could not collect the two-thirds vote they needed to bring it up.

Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee is expected to vote today on Senate Bill 8, which would boost teacher salaries, toughen penalties for low-performing schools and require that schools spend at least 65 percent of their money on instruction.

Competing for attention is a scaled-back plan to simply boost teacher pay and benefits and buy textbooks with money that is already in state coffers.

"Let's fix some problems, take them off the table and continue to work on the other issues," said Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, who is pushing the scaled-back plan, which Gov. Rick Perry has said he's open to.

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