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be answered. The state has a budget surplus which is supposed to enable this legislative session to get by without raising taxes. But Bob Bullock, the state comptroller, has doubts. “It’s as close as bark on a tree,” Bullock says. He points out that the Legislature has been whittling away at the estimated billion-dollar surplus through emergency spending bills. To date the Lege has appropriated $248.8 million in emergency moneys, which leaves a surplus of about $750.6 million. When Governor Briscoe introduced his edUcation bill, he guessed that it would cost $919.9 million, including $330 million that has already been programmed and budgeted under existing law. Kubiak estimated his plan as costing $650 million in new money. But nobody really knows. Nobody knows how much taxable property there is in Texas, and nobody knows at what rate it is going to be taxed. The governor’s office was supposed to come up with a ball park figure on taxable property values for the Texas Education Agency to use in computing the comparative costs of the five school financing programs. The figure was not available for use during the House hearings, but Briscoe, House Speaker Bill Clayton, Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, and representatives from the House and Senate finally managed to have a meeting on the subject the day before the House hearings ended, so the estimates should be available soon. PROPERTY ‘TAX’ reform is a key ingredient of all the school financing plans. Local school funds come from property taxes, and each school district assesses local property and sets a tax rate individually. A recent report released by the Legislative Property Tax Committee of property in the state at $301.9 billion and guesses ‘ that the property was undervalued statewide on the order of $80 billion. The undervaluation is greatest, according to the LPTC, in districts of 100 students or less and least in districts . with 3;000 or more students. Greatest undervaluation occurs in South and far West Texas. Property tax rates vary outrageously. The co mmittee concluded that homeowners and commercial businesses are paying higher effective tax rates than large industries and agricultural property owners. Property in the 35 sample districts studied by the LPTC were undervalued anywhere from 19 to 39 percent, with an average of about 43 percent undervaluation statewide. Agricultural property on an average was valued at 61 percent less than market value while commercial property was undervalued by 23 percent. Homeowners were estimated to be paying an extra 26 percent because of relative overassessment. Darrell Hancock of The Houston Post concluded, “If the report is accurate, it mercilessly indicts the state’s local property’ tax system. The principal charge: robbing from the poor and giving to the rich.” There are various proposals to clean up the property tax mess. All of the school financing bills contain some property tax reform. All are based on a full market value scheme rather than on the old, confusing Economic Index. The most comprehensive proposal, however, comes in a bill by Rep. Wayne Peveto of Orange County. The measure, which is carried in the Senate by Grant Jones of Abilene, would set up a uniform system of tax appraisal statewide. Peveto’s bill has 84 House co-sponsors, a majority, but he’s having procedural troubles getting his bill out of committee. Peveto would establish a property appraisal division in the state comptroller’s office to set standards and procedures for uniform tax assessment. Then each county would have a single office for appraising . taxable property, with the county tax assessor-collector serving as administrative head and a nine-member board of adjustment supervising the county operation. The number of appraisal offices in the state would thus be cut from 1,500 to 254. Each county would still decide what assessment ratio to use and would still be responsible for levying and collecting taxes, but the appraisal system would be uniform statewide. Governor Briscoe favors a state equalization board to assure that taxable property is assessed uniformly by school districts. Rep. Luther Jones of El Paso, a member of the LPTC, has a rival series of bills that deal less comprehensively with various problems of property taxation. Jones’ package of bills was set for hearing before Peveto’s in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, and Peveto insists Jones is getting preferential treatment because the committee chairman, Joe Wyatt, happens to be co-chairman of the Legislative Property Tax Committee. Peveto accused Wyatt of delaying $10.00 per person Students $6.50 Wine will be served. consideration of his bill. “I think the Legislature is heading for real trouble if the education bill reaches the floor before this property tax reform bill does,” Peveto says. Wyatt, who apparently doesn’t give a hoot about Peveto’s 84 co-sponsors, insists that Peveto’s bill “is going to be damn hard to pass.” The Peveto bill was scheduled for a hearing in Wyatt’s committee after the Observer went to press. The Senate will soon start hearings on school financing, and the House bills are in a subcommittee. The members of the subcommittee are Reps. Herman Adams of Silsbee, Ruben Torres of Port Isabel, Wilhelmina Delco of Austin, Hamp Atkinson. of New Boston, and House Education Committee Chairman Tom Massey of San Angelo. Massey is a lead sponsor of Briscoe’s bill. Torres and Delco have signed on with the Truan-Johnson bill. The subcommittee is scheduled to complete its work no later than April 7. -On the first day of meetings, subcommittee members agreed to try to draft a “perfect” bill and worry about adequate financing later. K.N. April 11, 1975 5 /Reply if attending 477-4335 The Central Texas Chapter of the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION cordially invites you to a luncheon honoring Congressman Bob Eckhardt on Saturday, April 5th, 1975 at 12:30 P.M. in the Sam Houston Room Stephen F. Austin Hotel MT,T1TTTMTMTTTWIS