Which is the biggest emergency: education or tax relief?
Now that Gov. Perry has manufactured a new use – tax relief – for the Rainy Day Fund, you can be sure his special interest political supporters will be all over themselves trying to get their hands on it. Technically, the constitution allows spending Rainy Day money for anything the Legislature decides to spend it on, including tax relief. But I say “manufacture” because the voters of Texas, when they approved the Rainy Day Fund more than 20 years ago, didn’t have tax relief in mind. They approved it as a savings account to be used to help state government bridge temporary, financial emergencies.
The governor and his allies in the legislative majority started trying to redefine the fund two years ago, when trying to explain why they left several billion dollars of taxpayer money sitting in it while inflicting $5.4 billion in cuts on public schools. The savings account should be reserved for hurricanes or other natural disasters, Perry claimed, while presiding over the biggest political disaster to befall Texas’ public schools in his lifetime.
Now, the fund has a balance approaching $12 billion, and Perry isn’t talking about hurricanes anymore. But he still intends to shut out the school children. He wants to use $3.7 billion from the fund to begin playing catch-up on highway and water needs and $840 million to help pay for about $1.8 billion in tax relief. Perry has indicated that at least part of his proposed tax relief would be to ease the business burden of the under-performing franchise tax. In other words, the franchise tax, which already falls several billion dollars short of meeting the schools’ needs each budget cycle, would contribute even less.
The Texas Association of Business, one of Perry’s biggest political supporters, already has its hand out for the lion’s share of any tax reductions. This is the same group that claims to be a strong supporter of education but has not said a word about restoring school funding, even though its members have much to gain from strong public schools. The business group’s leadership, instead, is more interested in imposing standardized tests on children than in repairing the damage to classrooms.
If you believe a quality education is more than a test score, and if you want the Legislature to restore the school budget cuts, you have to tell your own legislators. The money is there. In addition to the Rainy Day Fund, the Legislature is operating with a general revenue surplus of $8.8 billion. Combined, that is enough to meet the governor’s priorities, meet other pressing needs and repair education funding – now.
There is no need to wait for a final ruling in the school finance lawsuit, which is at least a year away, although that is a favorite excuse of some legislators who don’t want to do the right thing. Make sure your state representative and your state senator hear from you. If you don’t know who they are, click on this link, http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx.
Then type in your address, and you will get their names and contact information. Let them hear from you – early and often. You can bet they will be hearing a lot from the “tax relief” crowd.