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photo: Jana Birchum The House’s school finance committee gave the Governor’s proposal a courtesy hearing before shelving it to consider its own plans. The slot-machine proposal drew fire, with opposition seemingly based as much on the Good Book as on the economic argument that gambling revenues are notoriously unreliable and inefficient. Instead, the House put forward a funding scheme with even less money in it. Even after redefining an “adequate” educational system as one in which 45 percent of students fail standardized tests and 25 percent drop out, the House plan could offer most districts only 2 percent more in additional funds. Even that pittance was artificially contrived, for the most part, through a massive “hold harmless” provision. The House committee initially proposed a bundle of new sales taxes that elicited such a howl from the business lobby that most were withdrawn within hours. Slot machines remained in the bill, though several members said they would vote against them on the House floor. The committee’s other major revenue-raising measure was a tax on company payrolls. The bill passed out of committee on a Saturday with a vote divided starkly along partisan lines: every Democrat except lame duck Rep. Ron On May 3rd, the day before the full House was scheduled to consider the plan called House Bill 1, there were two press conferences. From the west wing of the Capitol, two dozen hardline social conservative members announced they had the votes to block slot machines. Meanwhile, the governor told reporters at an East Austin taqueria that he would oppose a payroll tax and, while he was at it, any other business tax. Finally, everyone knew where the money wasn’t going to come from. That afternoon, perhaps for the first time, even the Lege’s least mathematically oriented minds grasped the impossibility of the task they had laid out for themselves. They were about to get a very public math lesson. The morning of the House vote began with House Democrats calling a press conference to announce their alternative to the spending plan in HB 1. The Dems cheerily explained that their plan would do a number of things the House bill didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t do: provide all teachers with a $1,000 pay raise, cut property taxes for the poor as well as the continued on page 11 5/21/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9