Tag Archives: taxes

From The Texas Tribune: A tight-fisted Texas Legislature with expensive ambitions

Analysis: A tight-fisted Texas Legislature with expensive ambitions” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The Texas Legislature’s strong allergy to tax increases might be abating — just as long as you don’t call them tax increases.

They’re not saying so out loud — no point in riling up a price-sensitive electorate before the holidays, before the upcoming legislative session — or before lawmakers are ready to make their sales pitch.

But the talk of school finance as a top legislative priority guarantees a conversation about taxes. While there are many great policy reasons to mess with that persistent and gnarly issue, the political motivation here is simple: Texas property owners have made it clear to their representatives that they want lower property taxes.

When you do hear lawmakers talking about tax increases next year — whatever euphemisms they choose — they’ll be talking in terms of how that money will pay for property tax cuts. Cutting everyone’s current most-hated tax is the only way to explain so many conservative legislators making serious noises about increasing state revenue.

Given the way the state pays for public education — with a combination of local property taxes, and state and federal funding — the only ways to lower property taxes are to cut public education spending or to find money elsewhere to offset property tax cuts.

In the state’s 2019 fiscal year, the local share of school finance spending is estimated to be 55.5 percent of the total, while the state’s share is expected to be 35 percent, according to the Legislative Budget Board. The rest comes from the federal government.

The last time the Texas Legislature tackled school finance, the local and state shares matched. Years of rising property values – and rising local property tax revenue with them – have allowed the state to lower its share.

The price tag for a rebalancing would be enormous, though. And in spite of Democratic gains in last month’s elections, Texas still has a Republican-dominated state government, with GOP majorities in both the House and Senate, and Republicans in every statewide office. Many of them got where they are by opposing anything that sounded like higher taxes, which makes the road ahead pretty interesting.

If you do some quick arithmetic on those 2019 estimates, it would take a $5.7 billion increase in annual state spending to rebalance the state and local shares of public education spending. Doing that would put them both back where they were in 2008 — each covering about 45 percent of the load.

That’s easier to do on the back of an envelope than it is to do in the Legislature. The budget ahead is tight. House and Senate leaders have to pass what’s called a “supplemental appropriations bill” to take care of shortages in the current budget, Hurricane Harvey recovery costs, and so on. Early guesstimates are that they’ll start more than $5 billion short of what they need for the next budget — and that’s before they even bring up the expensive school finance project.

The governor already is circulating a document that dares to mention taxes in the title: “Improving Student Outcomes and Maintaining Affordability through Comprehensive Education and Tax Reforms.”

That gets right to the politics of the situation: State leaders are interested in easing property tax burdens, and school finance is the biggest lever in their toolkit. It’s also way out of balance and happens to need fixing. Lawmakers often blame the imbalance on school funding formulas. But they’re the authors of those dreaded formulas, and this is also a chance to put something better in place.

But it’s the tax problem — the price of owning property — that has made their price-sensitive voters potentially receptive to increases in other taxes. New money could come from eliminating exemptions, from property appraisal reforms, from raising existing tax rates or creating new taxes — any number of things. They’ll decide the details when they meet. They’ll figure out what to call it, too: It might be remarkable to see “tax” in the title of the governor’s presentation, but its neighboring word — “reform” — is the political touch.

They want to lower property taxes to make their voters happy, and to accomplish that expensive task without stirring up a new revolt from a different set of taxpayers.

At the end, someone in Texas has to pay for this stuff.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/12/03/tight-fisted-texas-legislature-school-finance-property-tax/.

 

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

School finance commission subcommittee approves expenditures plan

The Expenditures Subcommittee of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this week to lay out and vote on their recommendations back to the full commission. Based on both the recommendation and what the committee members had to say, it became clear that their primary goal is to drive dollars into increasing the basic allotment. They also have secondary goals of shifting funds out of programs not tied to educational programming and into programs designed to increase educational attainment for harder-to-teach students, particularly economically disadvantaged populations and English language learners.

The committee has not publicly released its report yet, but a summary breakdown of the recommendations can be found below. A video archive of the full subcommittee meeting, which lasted a little under an hour, is also available.

Group 1 – Reallocations of existing programs. This group represents approximately $5.3 billion to be spent on increasing existing initiatives and creating new initiatives.

  • Reallocate the Cost of Education Index (CEI) – $2.9 billion
  • Reallocate the 92-93 Hold Harmless – $30 million. This program only impacts 12 -20 school districts.
  • Reallocate the Ch. 41 Early Agreement Credit – $50 million. Eliminates a program that currently pays property wealthy districts to sign an annual contract by Sept. 1 agreeing to pay the state what they owe in recapture. The discount did not require districts to prepay or early pay.
  • Reallocate the Gifted and Talented (GT) allotment – $165 million. This recommendation eliminates the stand-alone allotment but does not eliminate other requirements to provide GT education from the Texas Education Code (TEC). Currently 99.9% of districts are at the 5% GT cap, meaning the same dollars can be more efficiently flowed out to schools through the basic allotment.
  • Reallocate the High School Allotment – $400 million.
  • Move from prior year to current year property values – $1.8 billion.

Group 2 – Increased spending on existing programs

  • Increase state compensatory education allotment from 0.2 to a spectrum that ranges from 0.225 and 0.275 as part of a tiered system that pays out higher amounts to campuses with more severely challenging populations. Currently, the recommendation is still based on free and reduced lunch but could use a more sensitive metric.
  • Change the transportation allotment to a millage-based approach at 0.83 cents per mile, to be set by appropriations.
  • Allow Ch. 41 districts to get compensated by the transportation allotment at a $60 million cost.
  • Fund the stand-alone small-size and mid-size district adjustment between $0 and $400 million outside the basic allotment, depending on where the basic allotment is set.
  • Increase the New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA) to $100 million. This represents a $76 million increase over last session.
  • Expand Career and Technical Education (CTE) funding to include sixth through eighth grades – $20 million.

Group 3 – New programs

  • Create a dual language allotment of 0.15 at a cost of between $15 and $50 million. This new allotment would be in lieu of (not in addition to) the bilingual allotment; you can either get the bilingual allotment or the dual language allotment, but not both.
  • Create a dyslexia allotment of 0.1 – $100 million.
  • Create a Kindergarten through third grade ELL/economically disadvantaged allotment of 0.1 – $786 million. This money is not tied to outcomes and can be used to fund any program that seeks to improve reading and math on grade level by grade three, including paying for full day Pre-Kindergarten programs.
  • Create a grade three reading bonus of 0.4 – $400 million. This provides incentive money for students meeting grade level in reading on the 3rd grade standardized test.
  • Create a College, Career, and Military Readiness Bonus – no specific weight – $400 million. This is envisioned as a reallocation of the High School Allotment and is aimed to drive the state’s “60/30” goals.
  • Create a teacher compensation program – $100 million. This is the governor’s performance pay program. It is formula-based, not grant-based, and is not subject to appropriation. There will likely be no fiscal note for the program until year three, and it is envisioned to grow over time.
  • Fund an extended year summer pilot program – $50 million. This program is intended to reduce summer learning losses for disadvantaged students.

Additional changes recommended:

  • Change the guaranteed yield on the copper pennies from a set dollar amount to a percentage of the Basic Allotment. When the yield was set, the dollar amount used represented approximately 88% of the basic allotment. Now it is much less. Increasing the guaranteed yield increases state entitlement, which helps property poor districts and recapture districts.
  • Decouple the golden pennies from Austin ISD.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for reporting on future actions of the commission.

School finance commission talks property taxes

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Thursday morning in Austin to discuss the role of tax revenue in the school finance system. Chairman Justice Scott Brister began the meeting by apologizing for comments about disabled children he made during a meeting of the working group on expenditures.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting April 5, 2018.

“I never suggested that any group of kids should be excluded from public funding or from being educated,” said Brister. State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, blamed the media for taking Brister’s comments about “slow” children out of context.

Brister followed by announcing that the working groups are not working as intended, specifically noting that attempts to hold meetings by teleconference have yielded less than stellar results. The chairman suggested members may instead call additional witnesses to the full commission’s May and June meetings and postpone working group recommendations to later in the year.

Additionally, Brister indicated what sort of recommendations he is seeking. Those recommendations include “how to get more with what you’ve got,” “all you can get from the taxpayers otherwise,” and how to address the concerns of those who argue still more funding is needed.

The chairman also offered a brief recap of suggestions submitted during public testimony last month. Those recommendations included raising the basic allotment for all students, increasing funding for gifted and talented and special needs students, funding pre-K, funding smaller class sizes, mentoring teachers, restoring additional state aid for tax relief (ASATR) funding, increasing teacher salaries and reducing health care costs for active and retired teachers, updating the cost of education index (CEI), and restoring state funding to at least 50 percent of the burden of paying for schools.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez was the first to testify, and outlined state sources of school revenue. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) argued for recapture, or “Robin Hood” taxes paid by local taxpayers, to be counted as state funding. House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston) pointed out that the state comptroller has consistently counted recapture as local funding. If recapture were counted as state funding, it would falsely inflate the percentage of school funding contributed by the state, which is currently around 38 percent.

The next panel featured a pair of representatives from the comptroller’s office. Texas does not have a statewide property tax, but it does have a statewide sales tax. Various sales taxes account for around two-thirds of all state revenue collections. Collections from the business franchise tax, which was initially created in order to help ease the property tax burden on homeowners, have steadily shrunk as lawmakers have chipped away at the tax over time. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chair of the House Public Education Committee, asked the comptroller’s office to prepare a report on education funding streams that have been cut by the legislature over the past ten years.

San Jose State University Professor Anette Nellen presented what an ideal tax system should consider, and her presentation led to a spirited conversation about whether the internet should be taxed. Nellen was followed by former chief revenue estimator James LeBas, who offered a summary of a book he wrote on tax law turning points. LeBas concluded that previous attempts to “buy down” local property taxes were thwarted by increases in property values, bond elections and other factors. He argued no such effort will be successful without continuously increasing funding, restricting local tax increases, or some combination of both.

The final panel involved testimony from several businesses, including Phillips 66, Texas Instruments and P. Terry’s Burger Stand. Business interests emphasized that taxes are a major consideration when it comes to where companies choose to locate and do business. A representative from the Texas Association of Builders testified that high property taxes are a hurdle to home ownership, however many homeowners choose where to buy based upon the quality of local schools. Patrick Terry, the founder and owner of P. Terry’s, testified that the rapid increase in property taxes is making it more difficult to provide discretionary benefits to employees and make charitable contributions to community organizations. More significantly, Terry suggested it is likely discouraging more entrepreneurs from entering the economy. Wayne Gerami, vice president at Austin Habitat for Humanity, suggested that some states utilize a “circuit breaker” provision, which caps an individual’s property tax burden at a certain percentage of their income.

Before adjourning, Brister confirmed that the reports from commission working groups will be delayed until September. The commission is scheduled to meet again on April 19.