Every session, there are opportunities for legislators to look like heroes by taking action that is often very shortsighted and ties the hands of future legislatures. This session is no different with discussions about property tax relief, reduction/elimination of the business franchise tax and the accounting “gimmick” proposed by the Senate as a way to balance the budget (as required by the Texas Constitution).
Like many of you, I follow the Texas Tribune very closely and especially appreciate the articles posted by Ross Ramsey. One in particular, posted on April 26, really hit at the essence of some of these decisions and the long term ramifications. Rather than me summarize his article, however, I believe that the entire article is worth reading (click here to read) by anyone focused on funding of public education and the “perfect storm” (my words, not his) that will await us when we see a reduction in our property values combined with depressed oil prices, falling sales tax revenues and no business franchise tax.
Of significance to those of us who support public education and push for adequate funding is the fact that the state’s percentage of funding has dropped from 45% in 2007 to what is now projected to be 38% of the total. All of this while total enrollment continues to grow at a rate of more than 80,000 students per year. While the headline of “funding enrollment growth” looks good on paper, the reality is that funding overall remains inadequate.
It’s easy to suggest that Texans want property tax relief; we all would like to pay less each year but the cold reality is that actions in Austin continue to shift the burden from the state to the local taxpayer. Are we all naïve enough to think that there is not a point at which programs and services will have to be cut if we continue to push for tax relief at whatever level? Certainly the vast majority of us understand that but the push for tax relief makes for good headlines … and headlines seem to be what it is all about for some of our legislators and “leaders”.
So what happens when the 86th session convenes in two years and finds an even greater budget challenge if oil prices remain flat, the franchise tax is reduced (or eliminated) and property tax relief passes? How will that group of legislators grapple with the challenge? Will they again find a way to kick the can down the road and defer making the hard choices and decisions that are fiscally responsible?
Ross Ramsey hit the nail on the head with his closing comment, "... if some Texas legislature of the future needs money, they can work it out themselves. That isn't the 85th Legislature's problem." Sadly, that seems to be the position being taken by many in Austin, a position that fails to recognize the importance of funding programs and services that fuel a vibrant economy. I may be a bit biased but at the top of that list should be public education. Unless we make education a priority, our public education system becomes another element of that perfect storm, leaving more than 5.4 million students without the resources they need to succeed.