Day: March 4, 2015

How to cut property taxes and fund schools

 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other legislative leaders who insist on reserving several billion dollars of available state revenue to cover tax cuts before addressing education and other needs probably are right about one thing. Many Texans want lower property taxes.

But the same gang chooses to ignore something else that is equally true. They and other state officeholders of like mind are the main reasons property taxes are so high. They caused the problem they allegedly are trying to correct.

During the 2013-14 school year, local property taxes accounted for the largest share – 48.4 percent – of total public education funding in Texas. State government contributed 40.5 percent, and 11.1 percent came from the federal government.

For years the legislative majority has been passing most of the buck for school funding to local taxpayers and then complaining that local property taxes are too high, trying to suggest that local officials are somehow to blame for a problem largely created in Austin. The state’s neglect of school funding reached a low point in 2011, when the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public schools, money that still hasn’t been totally restored.

The state’s neglect is the reason a state judge found the school funding system unconstitutional last year, an order the state is appealing instead of trying to address.

School districts collect the greatest amount of property taxes, and the best way to cut those taxes is for the Legislature to increase state funding for public education. I don’t mean a mere tradeoff for lower property taxes. I mean an increase, an amount that will at least finish restoring the money cut in 2011 and keep up with enrollment growth (about 80,000 kids a year) and inflation.

Because of a strong economy, the Legislature has enough money to do that this session without raising state taxes, but the shortsightedness and misplaced priorities personified by Dan Patrick and his fellow tea drinkers could very well fritter the opportunity away.

Patrick is backing a $4.6 billion tax-cut package that would include reductions in local property taxes and the state franchise, or margins, tax. Even though thousands of Texas’ smallest businesses are exempt from paying the margins tax, business leaders have been whining about it ever since its enactment in 2006.

Some of these same business leaders also purport to support a strong public school system. But it’s not difficult to figure out what their real priority is, and it isn’t adequate education funding.