a $60 increase for the second. Governor Mark White’s budget contains an equalization formula that calls for substantially larger increases for many school districts. Beyond the $30 increase per student, it provides: ” . for districts with 50 % of the state average property wealth per pupil, or less . . . an additional level of equalization aid is proposed, providing maximum entitlement Under this plan, Edgewood Schools could receive nearly $490 per student for the first year. Reacting to White’s proposal, Joe Kelly Butler told the senate that White’s equalization plan would shift funds from Dallas, Tarrant, Harris, Travis, and Jefferson Counties and rural Texas “and redistributes the money to Bexar County, El Paso County, and Border areas.” But Steve Carriker knows equalization aid does not only go to South Texas. Education disparities exist in all parts of the state. He rattles off in pairs the names of school districts in his part of West Texas that exist at opposite ends of the school funding spectrum. The have’s/have not’s are: Snyder/Sweetwater, Hamlin/Stamford, Munday/Knox City. The difference is usually caused by mineral wealth. Sweetwater, Stamford, and Knox City all receive equalization aid. State Representative Eddie Cavazos, D-Corpus Christi, has filed House Bill 1527 to amend the Texas Education Code so that equalization rates are raised to those recommended by COPS and other community organizations \(TO, It calls for maximum entitlement levels to be set at $550 for 1983-’84, $600 for 1984-’85, up to $750 or the state average enrichment per pupil, whichever is greater, by 1987-’88. These proposals come on the heels of the state comptroller’s latest revenue estimate, which lowered the surplus predicted in September, 1982, by almost $400 million and left Legislative Budget Board recommendations for state programs $1.5 billion in the red. As a result, Governor White has proposed higher taxes on luxuries and the selling of bonds for highway construction funding. Comptroller Bullock and various wellplaced legislators have urged an additional nickel-per-gallon gasoline tax. While there have been a few liberal whispers about the imposibility of raising the severance tax with the decline in crude oil prices, Cavazos’ bill does just that. There is little mention of a corporate profits tax \(TO, mention of a personal income tax. Then there is the increase in sales tax to fund education. The seven states with a lower sales tax than Texas levy a personal income tax. Among them, Louisiana and Oklahoma also levy a higher severance tax. Bob Barton knows there are problems with the Proposition Zero proposals. He would like to write in a provision to protect renters so that the property tax systematically passed along in rents will also be rolled back. He admits that perhaps as many as 55 school districts will show a loss under the plan. These would probably include Highland Park, Spring Branch, Plano, Austin, and Round Rock. Still, Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio ISDs would come out way ahead. “We aren’t through tinkering with the bill and may come up with some ways to avoid those losses. But if some of the richer districts do lose funding, they would be more able to shift for themselves than are the poorer districts currently scrambling for funds.” Barton is not overly optimistic about the plan’s chances in this session of the legislature. For it to have a chance, legislators will have to be deluged by constituents furious over property tax increases. Without the amendment, Barton sees no end to rollback elections in the next two years. Several school superintendents have voiced their support for the plan. Hays Consolidated School District Superintendent William Johnson sees it as an antidote to the millions lost in his district to agricultural and open land exemptions. Lockhart Superintendent told the Observer he’d welcome the change even if it only kept him even with past revenues. , Edgewood ISD Superintendent Jimmy Vasquez, however, is more skeptical. “I don’t see my friends in the more affluent school districts ready to go along with it. It sounds interesting, but I doubt it will go through. I was at a meeting with some other superintendents recently and they kind of guffawed at the idea. I don’t think people in northeast San Antonio would be as supportive of schools if they thought the money was coming out of there and going over here. ” Jim Boyle of the Texas Consumers Association doesn’t think the bill will go anywhere. “It is a possible solution,” he says, “and if food is still exempted it might work out. Still, while the property tax is not equitable, we see the sales tax as regressive. We won’t support it [Proposition Zero] at this time. ” Craig Foster is Executive Director of the Public Education Resource Equity Center, an association of low-wealth school districts \(representing those in the bottom third of the ranking of Texas sold on Proposition Zero. “The problem with no residential property tax,” says Foster, “is that you provide enormous amounts of relief to wealthy people. The only kind of exemption that makes sense is a flat dollar amount rather than a percentage amount. To me a percentage exemption, particularly 100 %, is ridiculous, given the increased pressure on district revenue from property tax. Productivity valuations have diminished in rural areas and the tax freeze on the elderly all put stress on the property tax already. To exempt totally $100,000 or $1,000,000 homes is ridiculous. The people proposing this are thinking primarily of what they have locally in terms of voter support. To people in $200,000 homes it’s a windfall. There are good arguments for not providing any relief for homes above a certain level. “What I think makes sense is a flat amount indexed as property values increase. It’s true that sales tax is probably a good way to raise funds for state purposes. In Texas it is the least regressive a sales tax can be in terms of exemptions. It is a rational approach, but we did away with the most rational way a statewide property tax. In one amendment we did away with it and in another we did away with statewide appraisal for tax purposes. That would really do away with inequities in distribution. The one way to take the wealth of the state as a whole and to distribute it to children of the state is a statewide property tax. With a sales tax, retail centers contribute more than property with mineral value. Another way, of course, is an increase in the severance tax.” Barton’s aide, Melissa Millecan, considers these responses. “This is not the year to raise severance taxes,” she says. “We may be two years ahead of our time. They tell me these things never make it the first time around. When I first heard about it, I had the same reaction a sales tax is regressive.” But, she says, as she began to study the situation and compiled figures on all the school districts, it changed her mind. “There are other ways, of course. We’re still looking for ways to iron some of the problems out. One possibility is for a smaller property tax with the state taking on paying for buildings and maintenance and for supplies. But that would cost three or four billion dollars. It’s just that the property tax is not a fair way to appraise wealth. Homes don’t generate income.” “I know initiatives are not always good things,” Bob Barton says, “but if we had the initiative in this state, we would go out and get a petition to get on the ballot. And we’d get 70% of the vote.” 16 MARCH 25, 1983
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