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INTERVIEW Ernestine Glossbrenner After 16 years in the Texas House of Representatives, Alice Democrat Ernestine Glossbrenner is retiring, to become director of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus. Glossbrenner, a former high school math teacher, has spent four of the past 16 years as chair of the House Committee on Public Education. Her appointment, by House Speaker Gib Lewis, to chair the education committee placed her in a position along with Senate Education Committee Chair Carl Parker of Port Arthur to coordinate the legislative effort to meet the demands of the Edgewood v. Kirby school funding equity lawsuit. In part, it is the failure of the Legislature to respond to Texas Supreme Court mandate on education funding that sends Glossbrenner back to Alice. In an interview in her Capitol office, several days after the end of the deadlocked special session on education funding, Glossbrenner told Observer editor Louis Dubose that the issue the Legislature refuses to address is not education but the state’s outdated system of taxation, which relies heavily on ad valorem and sales tax to provide for diminishing state services. What follows is a transcript of the interview, cut for space but not edited. Questions are in italics. ITHINK THAT SCHOOL FINANCE is caught up in all the other problems of state government. I am convinced after 16 years here, and I’m not as sanguine about the things that government can do as I was when I first came, but I still think that there are a lot of things government should do and can do. But Texas government is not going to work unless we get a tax base for it. It’s true that we can’t take care of our public schools. But we’re not taking care of our other state responsibilities either. We’re not taking care of the justice system I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an injustice system, but justice does not always prevail. We’re not taking care of health needs in the state, we’re not taking care of the needs of the elderly. And we’re not that poor. I did come to realize as we were fighting the fight that there are people who do not believe in equality, people who serve in the Legislature. Is that a recent realization? Well, I always knew it but I never quite heard it said out loud until this last go round. And you had to know it. Listening to Sam Johnson [R-Plano] a couple of sessions back, you would have known that? I counted Sam as a fluke, but he isn’t. He was representing the people of Collin County. They called me and called me and called me to tell me how much they didn’t think that we should share the tax base of the state. It didn’t seem to matter to them that the Supreme Court opinions were unanimous, both of the Edgewood decisions, Edgewood I and Edgewood II, were unanimous. Granted the first opinion was written by a liberal Democratic Justice, Oscar Mauzy. But the second opinion was written by Chief Justice Tom Phillips, a Clements appointee and then elected as a Republican. They just simply clearly said that if we were going to use ad valorem taxes to pay for the school system, then all the property in the state was going to have to considered as a tax base. So, I don’t understand what part of that decision my Republican colleagues couldn’t read. Obviously, this is a partisan issue. It became one but it shouldn’t be one. It became one for sure in this session. And somewhat so before. But when we were having the hearings on the Ogden bill, the bill that the Republicans said they wanted out of the committee, and they wanted it out as he [College Station Republican Steve Ogden] had written it. And even though I’d explained that that was not a good bill, we said, `OK, we’ll get it out.’ And during that hearing, one of the members of the committee [Alan Schoolcraft] said, no, he didn’t believe we should have equitable expenditures across the state. He, said he thought there was a level of education that we had to provide for everybody. But beyond that, those who could afford it should have it. That’s paraphrasing. … That was also the message I was getting from people in Plano who were calling down here very much opposed to the Fair Share Plan. They told me they liked the Ogden plan. It was clear that they hadn’t read the Ogden plan before they started. One man was real surprised that I called him back. … Turns out, he does not believe that we need equity. He grew up poor, has made money and he moved into a place where he can buy the best education for his children. That’s the kernel of it, the kernel of the nut. They will give up anything except advantage. They will pay taxes, although they don’t like to. But they intend for their school to provide for their children an advantage over other children. That’s what finally got through to me. And it just kind of blew my mind. When he told me that, I asked, ‘Well, how do you feel about the graduated income tax?’ And he’s opposed to it and he thinks everybody in should pay the same amount, not the same percentage. He said everybody should get the same amount. But if you pay more, you should get more for it. I said, ‘Well, you know, in truth, people do get more for their money if they have more.’ The poor pay taxes but they don’t really get to use the highways. But they have to pay for them. They pay for city services, but they usually get the poorest of city service because they don’t have the clout to raise enough cain. I said the comptroller, John Sharp, showed us some figures about a year ago that showed that the people in this state with family income of 20,000 or under pay about 5 percent of their income in taxes and those with incomes of 60 thousand or more pay 3 percent or less. I don’t know if that’s still exactly right but I suspect it is. Because there are so many things that we don’t tax. … How much did this influence your decision to retire? Well, actually none of that, because I’d decided last November. I guess it was November. November or early December. I had to ‘sit around a lot after I had that car wreck. They wouldn’t let me go to work. When you sit around a lot, you think a lot. I guess I would have run [in the election] out of habit, but I got to thinking about the session coming up. And, I thought, I just couldn’t get any enthusiasm for it. Well, I think it’s a real important job. And it’s hard work. And if you can’t come at it with real enthusiasm, you’re doing your constituents a disservice. The real reason I didn’t have any enthusiasm for it is because I thought, `We’re not going to solve this school finance problem because we’re not willing to address the tax structure.’And I just didn’t see any point in doing it anymore. If we’re not going to fix the tax structure in Texas, so that we have a chance of making the state government work, then I just don’t see the point anymore. You know, we can fix the tax structure with 76 votes in the House and 16 in the Senate. Once we do that, we can fix other things. Where does the political will or courage to do that come from? See, I don’t know. Because I’ve always been willing to do it. You know, if we’d have ever had a real bill, I’d have voted for it. A real bill in what You know, if we’d have had a real chance to pass a tax re-structure that had come to the House floor, I’d have been glad to vote for it. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5