Richard Greene

Legislature shooting for three goals with taxes, schools, budget

Fort Worth Schools Offer Full-Day Pre-K To All Four-Year Olds

Fort Worth ISD has raised local funding that allows it to provide full-day pre-k to all 4-year olds. Other districts, however, restrict enrollment leaving many children without the opportunity to enroll.
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Fort Worth ISD has raised local funding that allows it to provide full-day pre-k to all 4-year olds. Other districts, however, restrict enrollment leaving many children without the opportunity to enroll.

In hockey and soccer a hat trick is accomplished when a player scores three goals in a single game.

The Texas Legislature, now into its first week of the current biennium, is promising a hat trick of its own by crafting laws that will (1) rein in property taxes, (2) increase funding for public education, and (3) balance the state budget.

Four area lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives appeared before the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce just before heading to Austin to kick off the new session, and provided some insight of how that feat could be accomplished.

A previous visit from senior advisers on Gov. Greg Abbott’s staff identified the same priorities as has Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

Firebrand Rep. Jonathan Stickland, sounding a bit more moderate tone now that Joe Straus is no longer Speaker of the House, cautioned the gathering that “voters are sick of campaigns and (empty) rhetoric and want results.”

He’s on target with that conclusion. Now comes the hard work of providing more funding to boost the state’s poor performance in preparing the next generation for success via a quality education, while delivering on promises of property tax relief.

The road to those ends will be bumpy. But the journey begins with encouraging news from state comptroller Glenn Hegar that there will be more revenue for the legislature to work with. An additional $9 billion or so will be just enough to cover the leftover deferred payments from the last session two years ago.

That should mean state business doesn’t have to begin with having to cover what Rep. Chris Turner said were IOU’s from the conclusion of the 2017 gathering of the state’s lawmakers.

Still, money has to be found if the two competing priority objectives are to be achieved. The discussion among the four all seemed to recognize that the tough business of cutting state spending or using some of the rainy-day reserves would not be enough.

Opportunities abound in one or two resources available if the two houses and the governor can bring themselves to consider what will be immediately declared as tax increases.

Rep. Matt Krause was the first to suggest that the legislature could give school districts the opportunity of up to one-cent in new sales taxes as a means to provide the money needed if the state mandated some new ceiling on what could be raised with property taxes.

The appeal of sales taxes in communities with tourism industries is that of money flowing to local governments comes substantially from visitors, thus reducing the burden on local residents.

Rep. Tony Tinderholt said he thought an increase in gasoline taxes would be better than creating a “new” tax. Currently, five cents per gallon is earmarked for public education. The total of 20 cents per gallon has not been increased in the last 27 years.

With the wide fluctuations in the cost of gasoline experienced these days, an additional tax may be hard to discern by many motorists.

Sales and gasoline taxes are a form of consumption taxes that give people a bit more control on what they pay, and may find favor this session among legislators from both parties. Republicans remain in control throughout the Capitol, but an increase in the number of Democrats could suggest a better chance for compromise.

In the end, voters will judge if the opposing goals of property tax relief and higher funding for public education have been achieved to their satisfaction.

Of course, there are a great many other issues legislators will tackle. If history is any guide, we will see more than 6,000 bills filed.

In the midst of all of that, we’ll see if there’s enough political will to actually score that hat trick and deliver the desired results for what everyone says is this session’s highest priorities.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.