Houston State Lawmakers Say School Finance Plan is Flawed

The ink is barely dry on a bill that restructures the state's business tax to help pay for Texas public schools, but a group of democratic lawmakers from Houston are already saying it won't work. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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After several tries, the state legislature earlier this week finally approved the business tax plan along with an extra tax on cigarettes and a reduction in property taxes that supporters say solves the school finance issue for now. But Democrats, like Houston state representative Garnet Coleman, say the end result will be higher taxes elsewhere and a public school system that won't see all the money that's promised.

"When we go back into session in 2007, the legislature is going to have to work on the long-term fix that the public was promised. The public was promised a tax system that literally grew over time. It does not do that. The public was promised that the money would go to fund public education in the future. It does not do that. The public was promised that we would improve public education in Texas. This plan does not do that."

Governor Rick Perry, after signing legislation in Austin that shifts some of the school finance burden to businesses, promised the new law will help create an almost $16 billion property tax reduction. Democratic representative Scott Hochberg says Perry's plan is a short-term fix.

"After all this, we're right back where we started, except that he is leaving in the piggybank a $20 million IOU that says we're going to have to come up with the money later, somehow, somewhere. That will either be through drastic cuts in these very schools that this is supposed to fund or with increases in taxes or with gambling, or probably a combination of all of those."

Although she wouldn't say it was a case of sour grapes, Republican state representative Martha Wong of Houston says the Democrats, and specifically Scott Hochberg, were the ones who created the school finance mess in the first place.

"Whose plan was it to do education the way that we've been doing it? It was the Democrat plan, it was Robin Hood plan, it was Scott Hochberg's plan. Please. So we're just trying to correct what's happened to that plan and find a new way to raise money for public schools and we've found that."

Wong says the state will use a combination of the new business and cigarette tax, along with money from a surplus fund, to make sure schools get the funding they need. Five different bills were part of the school finance package that was approved during the nearly month-long special session, which ended Monday.

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