Page 6


A Waiting to Exhale: George W. Bush Alan Pogue and anger. Legislators were bombarded with pressure on nearly every suggestion of how to share the load. “There were some exceptions,” Hochberg added. “The taxi people didn’t just complain [about the form of a new tax], they came in with a good alternative method; the car wash and liquor industry also responded reasonably. But in the end the business lobby was just too formidable, particularly on the Senate side.” Moreover, Hochberg says the committee received stiff opposition from some school boards to its parallel attempt to stabilize and equalize school district funding statewide, an effort intended to end decades of litigation and acrimony over school funding. “In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was taken aback at the extent of the flat opposition to making the system more equitable. Instead of school boards looking at this as giving them an assured source of funding, they saw it as an attack on their control of their own budgets. It was as if we’d brought everybody to the altar, and then some of them started saying, ‘Hey, we didn’t know about this for-richer-or-for-poorer stuff.’ Hochberg acknowledged that many of the wealthier districts are openly hostile toward the idea of equity itself. “One school board member from Calhoun County said to me, ‘This [plan] moves from socialism to downright communism.’ Besieged from both sides, the committee managed to keep its bill reasonably intact in the House, but the Senate version was much less bold. When a conference committee was appointed, it took a week before the members could agree to even hold a serious meeting. By the time Sadler forced a direct consultation between the Governor and the House and Senate leadership, the Senate delegation balked at any new form of taxes whatsoever. The stalemate left one option: divvy up the pot. Forever. “The result,” argued Dallas Democrat Harryette Ehrhardt, “is that we’re going to have to figure out a way to tax people enough to have a surplus every yearand that doesn’t make any sense at all.” Hochberg says he voted for the homestead exemption resignedly, partly because it was all the committee had left. “It was not my favorite way to spend the money, at roughly $30 per Texan. But homeowners have been paying more than their fair share, relative to businessesand the businesses were the ones who had stopped any further reform.” It may not be a great deal of money, Hochberg added, but in some rural districts the exemption may completely wipe out property taxes for poorer homeowners. He is gratified that the amendment also included an upward revision of the minimum salary schedule for teachers”that will improve teacher salaries in 900 out of 1,000 districts”and that nine dollars per student was also added to the school budget. Hochberg says he would have liked to have done more with taxes, but “the public was skeptical. One person’s ‘loophole’ is another person’s ‘vital economic development initiative.’ MEAT OFF THE HOOF AND MUTE QUESTIONS Would-be orators at the Lege, dismally bereft of invention, often compare the making of law and sausage, to the denigration of both. But the truth is, to anyone with a healthy appetite for bathos, the details of either process can be entirely engrossing. One of the more entertaining episodes in the tax debate occurred Friday evening, May 23, and opened the weekend that Paul Sadler had declared do-or-die for any tax plan. He began a public meeting of the House-Senate Committee, saying, “We need to come to closure,” and his Senate counterparts, Republicans Ken Armbrister and Teel Bivins, described what they hoped would be a compromise plan to come closer to House numbers on tax adjustments. Unfortunately, the plan included completely unspecified tax savings of $300 million, by means of an across-the-board 1 percent cut in unnamed “targeted agencies” \(despite the fact that the budgeting “cash management deferrals” to a half-dozen human services programs. As he itemized the Senate plan, Bivins slowly took on the look of a man who thought he’d understood it perfectly when the accountants explained it to him that morning. “What are ‘cash management deferrals’ ?” asked Sadler suspiciously. Bivins responded that at the end of the biennium, the state would delay for one week the distribution of $600 million in authorized expendituresthereby magically creating $600 million out of thin sounded like a “smoke-and-mirrors…housewife maneuver to him,” and after several awkward moments, even Bivins and Armbrister had little stomach to explain the idea, let alone defend it. \(“With an anticipated surplus [in future budgets],” intoned Armbrister, “the question will be mute.” Sadler was visibly exhausted and angry \(“I’m not in the mood to 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 20, 1997