EDITORIAL / L’Ancien Regime in Austin Unlike the raucous and slightly more Democratic House ; which required three days and one hate crime through a tax bill and a constitutional amendment the Senate did its work in eight hours. It was a frightfully efficient use of timeconsidering that thirty-one Senators managed to undo most of the good done by one hundred fifty state representatives. I ” is a quick fix,” said Paul Sadler, chair man of the House committee that spent ten weeks, listening to lobbyists, CEOs, CPAs, school administrators, economists, concerned citizens, tax assessors, and Billy Hamilton of the comptroller’s office. More precisely, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the Senate substitute bill provides nearly sixty percent of new property tax reductions to businesses, leaving forty percent for home owners. And the Senate’s elimination of the House’s statewide property tax strips the bill of what the Center calls an “inherently equalizing” finance measure, which would have provided a more equitable distribution of the state’s wealth to all of the state’s school children. The House and Senate versions of tax relief and school finance legislation now go to a conference committee, where a Gresham’s Law of Legislative Deliberation almost guarantees that bad legislation displaces good. For anyone who would truly understand the Senate, the eight hours of floor debate on May 9 was illuminatingbecause it was eight hours of intense class warfare in which the class with the most economic resources prevailed. Florence Shapiro might have been cast as Marie Antoinetteas Senator Carlos Truan suggested when he interrupted one of her chirpy assaults on the working poor by standing and shouting “Let them eat cake!” But the rabble never got out of hand and no one on the political right had to stand and quote Marat. Truan’s metaphor was only close. Shapiro, the former mayor of Plano, now chair of the Republican Senate Caucus, has never behaved like a glib and passive defender of privilege. In fact, on this occasion she was the boldest and most creative champion of her classoffering up amendments that would have moved billions of dollars of property wealth off the tax rolls of rich school districts, provided huge tax deductions for corporate executives or owners of partnerships, and shifted more of the burden of taxation onto the class that owns the oldest cars by increasing the sales tax on automobile repairs. The other side was left with Gonzalo Barrientos cast as a young Talleyrand, muttering his way through a liturgy of mildly progressive amendmentslike the measure that will exempt schools from sales tax on the sale of pencils and paper. To his credit, Barrientos shoulders most of the load for working people, and his bolder gestures, including attempts to exempt clothing and non-prescription drugs from the sales tax, were among very few proposals that might have made the bill less regressive. And it is a Barrientos amendment that mandates that some of the scant property tax relief the bill provides is passed on to rentersthe forty percent of Texans the Governor neglected when he drafted his plan in January. San Antonio Senator Greg Luna tried, too, with his failed amendment that would have closed the tax loophole that allows country clubs to be taxed as park land. But this was no day for progressive tinkering. Amendments like Robert Duncan’s deft move to declare income from publicly traded partnerships as “passive income,” and therefore eligible for tax breaks, were acceptable “adjustments.” Tax credits for working-poor parents of school children and a requirement that country clubs pay their share of taxation were assaults on the integrity of the bill. The political center of the Senate has moved so far to the right that Mt. Pleasant Republican Bill Ratliff made the most courageous progressive stand of the day, in a magisterial deconstruction of East Texas Republican Tom Haywood’ s dipshit proposal to cut five percent from every budget over which the state government has any control: “The budget today puts $500 million a biennium into the teacher retirement system. Are you going to cut it by five percent? Is it actuarially sound? Are we going to take twenty-five million dollars out of our em”We’ve got $1.9 billion a year in the teacher retirement system. That means we’d have to cut $150 million out of the teacher retirement system. Do your retired teachers tell yOu they’ve got an adequate you intend to take $150 million out of their “Currently, in public education we put $45 billion every two years into the system. Now in order to cut that by five percent, you’d have to cut, cut, public education. We’re trying to find $1.2 billion to add to public education but your amendment would cut public education by $2.25 billion dollars.” “During the interim, we had a proposal, I think by you, to increase the pay of professors to the national average. But your proposal here would cut funding by public education by 470 million dollars? How can we give professors a raise?” \(“I It was a sober lecture from a Finance Committee chairman who has spent so much the past year on the demand side of the tax-and-appropriation process that he understands that the system barely works. But when a fiscally conservative Republican like Bill Ratliff has to stop the Senate’s proceedings to move the political center back toward the left, it’s no surprise that Gonzo is digging in to defend what precious little is left of the center. L.D. 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER !”,^1,,, a MAY 9, 1997
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