FIRST THERE WAS the Ratliff Plan, so described because Bill Ratliff, the Republican chair of the Senate Education Committee, proposed it. It was in the works before the May 1 defeat .of the proposed school funding constitutional amendments amendments defeated well before the election, when Republicans and conservative Democrats succeeded in characterizing them as the “Robin Hood Plan.” A week before the election, according to Austin lawyer Randall “Buck” Wood, Lieut. Gov . Bob Bullock knew the school finance amendment was going to be defeated. So Bullock sent his chief of staff, former Democratic Representative Bruce Gibson, to “find a lawyer” who could draft a school finance plan that could make it through the Legislature, comply with the Texas Constitution and meet the requirements of the equity rulings handed down by district judges Harley Clark and Scott McCown and upheld by the Texas Supreme Court. Gibson found Jim Shear, a lawyer with the Austin law firm of Ray, Wood & Fine. Shear’s plan was informed by a conversation he had with Wood, in which they realized that the Eanes Independent School District, a property-rich district adjacent to Austin, would not be so overburdened with wealth if it could remove Barton Creek Mall from its tax rolls. So at Gibson’s request Shear crafted a “take-the-mountain-to-Mohammed” plan. Under the Ratliff plan, 109 of the wealthiest districts in the state would lose some of their tax base, as properties would be assigned to tax-poor districts. By lowering the tax base of those at the top and raising the tax base of those at the bottom, the Ratliff plan would have closed the gap between high-taxwealth school districts and low-tax-wealth districts. When the Lieutenant Governor said he was “very enthusiastic” about it, that just might have been because the Ratliff plan was conceived as the Bullock Plan. Members of the House Public Education Committee, holed up in the Capitol apartment of Speaker Pete Laney, had been working on their own plan. After spending the weekend of May 8-9 poring over maps and computer printouts listing the state’s wealth, they emerged with what was probably the cleanest, fairest plan of the session: a limited consolidation plan that would join 109 of the state’s top tax-wealth districts with 131 lowtax-wealth districts. As there are 1,048 school districts in the state, the plan would not be the “massive consolidation” that “Robin Hood” proponents posed as a Sword of Damocles. Only 23 percent of the state’s school districts would have been consolidated. That the limited consolidation plan appeared to be gathering support was evident. Like monsignors waiting for the white smoke announcing the election of a pope, the Republican House members who had worked to defeat the school funding amendments stood outside the doors of Laney’ s back-of-thechamber apartinent, fretting and talking to reporters, obviously intent on destroying something that wasn’t yet created. Dallas Republican John Corona questioned the integrity of the education committee members, saying “this [consolidation] has been their backup plan the whole time. It’s just another version of Robin Hood.” A few feet away, Steve Ogden, a Republican from Bryan, said the process was completely closed and “only a few insiders” were involved in the plan., \(Ogden’s version was refuted the same day when Henderson Democrat Paul Sadler was asked for a response. “Steve came in while we were meeting last night and wouldn’t even read the bill,” another suburban Dallas Republican, also worked to ensure that the plan would be stillborn, telling the press “people all over the state are going to be incensed over this. It does nothing to improve the quality of education.” And though the limited consolidation bill allowed local school boards almost the same autonomy they had before consolidation, Hill raised the issue of loss of local control. By the time the white smoke appeared, in the form of the press conference trumpeting the “most consolidated man’s,” support for the plan, it was probably already too late. Warren Chisum, the conservative Democrat from Pampa who said he would have more school districts consolidated than any other member of the House, described limited con r .,,,, THE TEXAS 1111111 server JUNE 4, 1993 VOLUME 85, No. 11 FEATURES Tax and Bend for Utilities By James Cullen 5 Inhospitable Insurance By James Cullen 7 Looking for Kay By James Cullen 8 Finding Ray By Louis Dubose 9 Time Bomb Ticking By Maury Maverick 1 1 Return of the Boll Weevils By James McCarty Yeager 12 Congressional Reform: Joshua Blow Your Horn By Deborah Lutterheck 14 Evicting the Homeless By Molly Ivins 16 DEPARTMENTS Editorial 3 Legislative Notes 6 Bad Bills 10 Las Americas The Truth in Guatemala By Barbara Ferry 17 Books & the Culture Like Water for Chocolate Book review by Pat LittleDog Revolucion en la cocina Movie review by Steven G. Kellman Invisible Men Drama review by James McC.Yeager 18 19 20 Afterword Military Secrets By Pat LittleDog 22 Political Intelligence 24 Cover illustration by Emily Kaplan EDITORIALS Cry Fowl THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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