School funding architect is now hurricane czar
It is encouraging that Gov. Greg Abbott has appointed John Sharp to be his hurricane czar, the person who will be responsible for overseeing the huge task of rebuilding Texas from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.
Sharp is an experienced government policymaker with a reputation as a doer, not an ideologue or bombastic tweeter. He has had a long career as Legislative Budget Board examiner, legislator, Railroad Commissioner, state comptroller and now Texas A&M chancellor. Sharp also was an architect of our current, inadequate school funding system, although the ultimate failure isn’t his fault.
Sharp chaired a task force appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, his one-time political rival, that proposed the tax plan that the Legislature enacted in 2006 to temporarily lower school property taxes and replace the old state franchise tax with the under-performing margins tax as a new source of revenue for schools and other state programs.
This alleged “swap” allowed Perry to brag about “cutting” property taxes, even though the reductions were transitory and were soon wiped out as taxes continued to rise with increasing property values. The new margins tax never was intended to generate as much revenue as the franchise tax, and it has performed even worse than expected.
From the day the margins tax was enacted, business people have continuously whined about it, and the Legislature has responded with a series of cuts. This year, the legislative majority went so far as to order an eventual phaseout of the margins tax without approving a source of revenue to replace it.
Meanwhile, school property taxes continue to increase as state funding for public education continues to decline and schools remain underfunded. These include schools in Harvey’s path that now face huge recovery challenges compounded by enormous losses to their property tax bases.