House Bill 3, which provided billions of dollars in new state aid for educator pay raises and other classroom needs, got most of the attention during this year’s legislative session, as well it should have. It had been several years since the Legislature made such a heavy investment in Texas’ future, and it happened only because TSTA members and other educators voted education first in last year’s legislative elections.
We replaced several anti-education incumbents in the House and the Senate with new lawmakers who knew that being pro-public schools was much more than and smile and a pat on the nearest teacher’s head.
But the Legislature, with the votes of several lawmakers who should have known better, also slipped in and passed a proposed constitutional amendment that will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot as Proposition 4. If voters approve it, its effects may not be felt for years, but eventually it could end up shuttering public schools and crippling other important services.
Proposition 4 would make it more difficult to enact a personal income tax, something that isn’t going to happen in Texas anytime soon anyway. But of more critical importance to Texas’ future, Proposition 4 also would wipe out a constitutional provision that dedicates any future income tax revenue to education.
This provision, the so-called Bullock amendment, was added to the Texas Constitution, with voter approval, in 1993, when the legislative majority had a much keener sense of the future and the growing needs of a growing state than the current state leadership demonstrates. The provision says that a personal income tax can be imposed in Texas only with the approval of a majority of Texas voters. And at least two thirds of the revenue from an income tax would have to be spent to reduce school property taxes and the remainder to increase education funding.
All that potential education funding will disappear if voters approve Proposition 4. The Legislature at some future date could still approve an income tax on a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate and, with voter approval, could choose to spend the money on anything.
Supporters of Proposition 4 would like you to believe that Texas has an income tax “crisis.” We don’t. With or without Proposition 4, the Legislature isn’t likely to approve an income tax for years. But sooner or later, lawmakers may have to consider an income tax to meet growing spending needs, and Proposition 4 will make their jobs more difficult, with schools forced to scramble for funding.
Proposition 4 could even provoke a more-immediate crisis. Because the amendment doesn’t define individuals as living persons, it could encourage business groups to go to court and seek rulings exempting corporations from having to pay billions in state franchise taxes. If they are successful, billions of dollars would have to be cut from education and other programs.
The only viable recourse for educators is to continue voting for education first. That will include voting for more education friendly legislative candidates in 2020…and voting AGAINST Proposition 4 this fall.
Early voting has started and will run through Nov. 1.