“Swapping” money from education

 

We have known for a long time that Dan Patrick, if elected lieutenant governor, will continue his attack on public education, and now we know a little more about the hocus-pocus by which he intends to do that.

Patrick emerged from hiding behind the tea counter long enough to announce, at a Texas Tribune-sponsored event in Austin last weekend, that the Legislature should consider a so-called “tax swap” – reducing local school property taxes in exchange for a higher sales tax. There are at least two big problems with that idea.

One, a swap implies an even exchange. So even under the most favorable interpretation, Patrick isn’t proposing any additional money for our under-funded public schools, even though enrollment continues to increase by about 80,000 kids per year. So, that would mean less money to spend on each child’s education.

And, worse, the last time the Legislature enacted a so-called “tax swap” — in 2006 — it dug a $10 billion hole in the public education budget that is still there – on top of the $5.4 billion in school budget cuts that Patrick and the legislative majority approved in 2011.

That’s because the 2006 “tax swap” was a sleight of hand. School property taxes were cut by one-third, a short-term savings that soon disappeared as property values continued to increase. The lost property tax revenue allegedly was replaced by an increase in the cigarette tax and a new business tax, the so-called margins tax. But state leaders intentionally designed the replacement taxes to bring in less revenue than was lost from the property tax cuts, so they could claim they had delivered a net tax “cut.” And, to make matters worse, the new margins tax under-performed.

Consequently, the two-year education budget still has a “structural deficit” of $10 billion. That 2006 law and the 2011 cuts are two major reasons that most school districts sued the state over funding. That lawsuit has resulted in a judge declaring the school funding system inadequate and unconstitutional, and Patrick cannot be trusted with leading the Legislature to fix it.

He voted for the $5.4 billion in school cuts in 2011, he voted against the entire state budget – including a partial restoration of the cuts – in 2013 and now he is proposing an alleged “swap” of taxes that, even under the best circumstances, would further cut per-student funding and likely would be even worse.

Funding per student already has dropped by almost $500 since the 2011 cuts.

Patrick’s Democratic opponent and TSTA’s endorsed candidate, Leticia Van de Putte, has the right idea. She wants to use increased revenue being generated by existing taxes (thanks to a strong Texas economy) to begin restoring the damage to education that Patrick and his fellow ideologues have inflicted.

Patrick is part of the problem. Van de Putte represents a solution.

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