For the Ffth time in two years, state lawmakers are in Austin trying to hammer out a way to pay for Texas schools, while giving property tax relief. The state Supreme Court says there's no coming up short this time, or schools won't open in the fall.
As was big news back in November, the Supreme Court declared lawmakers would have get this done, not so much because property taxes were too high, but most school districts were collecting the maximum allowed by law. It functioned as a state property tax the court said, and that's unconstitutional.
So Governor Perry's plan is to cut your property taxes by a third -- huge break for homeowners -- but that money has to be replaced. And that would start with business. The state's franchise tax that businesses pay is full of loopholes. The governor says making all businesses pay would take up some of the slack. So would every smoker who would pay a dollar a pack more in taxes.
But Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has thrown a curve ball to lawmakers and the governor she's running against in November. Today, she announced the state's budget surplus at 8.2 billion dollars, nearly double the previous estimate. Some lawmakers are expected to support taking that money now to give property tax relief without a tax system overhaul.
For her part, Strayhorn supports closing corporate tax loopholes without impacting service industries, plus other cuts, but she also wants an across the board teacher pay raise. That will be hotly debated.
So you can expect to hear plan after plan this next month, from within the legislature and without. And from here forward, because whatever the result, there will be ammunition and spin as the campaign for governor winds toward November.
Lawmakers won't have that entire 8.2 billion dollar surplus at hand. Money has already been promised for school textbooks, plus half-a-billion dollars must go to cover costs from last year's hurricanes. Plus the federal government wants another half-billion in medicare costs.