Tuesday, November 22, 2005

And the truth is ... Texas public school funding difficult problem to solve

Author’s Note: In the foreseeable future, all blog entries penned by Chuck Bloom will fall under the title of “And the Truth Is … ” to explain to the readers what is, and is NOT, the truth and what is utter nonsense (as opposed to common sense, which will be employed in all future blog submissions).
Many past submissions could be reworked into a future book, “And the Truth Is …”
The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday morning concerning school financing and labeling the current usage of property taxes to fund our children’s education sets down a “firm” deadline for the Legislature to act.
However, that doesn’t mean quick action can be expected. And the truth is … there will probably be little room to spare between the initiation of a special session by Gov. Rick Perry and the June 1 deadline imposed by the court.
First, there is a blue ribbon commission, led by former Comptroller John Sharp (a Democrat) as appointed by Perry, charged with producing a plan everyone, especially the courts, can live with. Public hearings will be scheduled for December and add a month or two to produce a final report.
That moves action into February, which will directly conflict with the 2006 primary campaign season, involving the entire Texas House and a third of the Senate. Perry will be facing a primary challenge from Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn (and who knows who else), so attention and focus won’t be … in full measure. The Legislature is going to have to work hard and really keep their eye on the property tax ball – difficult at best when worrying about retaining their seats.
Add another month for runoffs and it’s now late April-May. Count 30 days until June 1 and a session must be called by May 2 in order to meet the “legal” deadline. No one knows what will happen if the Legislature fails to do what was asked of it the last three years. The “Robin Hood” system was not dismantled by Tuesday’s ruling; just mandating that the current usage of maxing out local property taxes is unconstitutional.
And the truth is … that part of the law isn’t going away soon, much to the dismay of the rich, suburban school districts, which will still have to support those districts of less economic wealth.
As in PROPERTY wealth. A fine Catch-22 if there ever was one.
The business lobby will fight any attempt at business taxes and Democrats will fight any attempt to shift the taxing burden to the sales tax. Compromise, in short supply in Austin, will have to be reached, which hasn’t happen in the past two regular session and three special sessions (all controlled by the GOP).
Sadly, because of the Texas system of government, under-the-gun special sessions are the only remedy when problems, or crisis, arise. If the legislature met annually for regularly scheduled sessions, like most other states, these things MIGHT be avoided.
But that’s another argument for another day. I am just laying out a legitimate timetable for action, or non-action, based on history.
And the truth is … NO easy solution can be found without a fierce debate and plenty of politics – always a bad recipe for our children’s future.

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