Senator Carona's Email Update
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December 2, 2005

What's new . . .

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing this past month in Beaumont on our state's hurricane-related expenses. While in Beaumont, the committee was able to attain a first-hand understanding of the costs, in human suffering and collateral losses, associated with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and their impact on the state budget. According to a report released by the Legislative Budget Board, Texas' costs have reached $1.4 billion; out of these costs, the federal government is expected to reimburse the state $961 million and could reimburse an additional $244 million of these costs.

The Speaker and Lt. Governor have yet to agree on an agenda for the next Legislative Budget Board hearing. At this moment, no date has been set for the hearing.

Committees in the House of Representatives have begun hearings on their interim assignments. For a complete list of these committee hearings, click here. As of this issue, the Lt. Governor has not yet announced the Senate interim assignments.

The Texas Tax Reform Commission, the committee appointed by Governor Perry to study changes to our state's tax system and made up of a wide range of business leaders from throughout the state, held its first hearing on November 21. The committee heard testimony on our state's current tax system, previously proposed changes to the system, and our state's changing demographics. A common theme was that our state's tax system no longer reflects our economy.

Focus. . .

On November 22, the Texas Supreme Court issued its ruling on the public school finance lawsuit. In the original lawsuit, a coalition of school districts sued the state contending the $1.50 cap on local property taxes had become a statewide property tax; school districts lacked sufficient funds to provide an "adequate" education, as defined by the Texas Constitution; and that the state's system of financing schools did not meet the constitutional standard for equity. State District Judge John Dietz ruled in favor of the school districts on all counts.

The state then appealed the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. In its ruling, the Court overruled Judge Dietz on the adequacy and equity claims, but did rule that the $1.50 cap had become an unconstitutional statewide property tax and set a June 1 deadline for the Legislature to restructure the tax system. The Court may cut off state funding for public education if there is no resolution by the deadline.

At this point, it appears that Governor Perry will call a special session to address the Texas Supreme Court's ruling after the March 2006 primaries. As stated in the Texas Constitution, it is the Governor's prerogative to decide which issues are considered in a special session. The Governor could choose to limit the special session agenda to tax reform or could expand it to include education reform and other issues as well.

I am cautiously optimistic that the Texas Supreme Court's ruling will give the Legislature the impetus to finally provide meaningful education and tax reform and property tax relief.

Did You Know. . . ?

Texas State Parks gift certificates are now available from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Certificates are $60 and allow the recipient and their guests one year of free entry to Texas' state parks, historic sites, and natural areas. Additionally, pass holders will also receive discounts on camping, lodging, park store merchandise, and equipment rentals at select parks. Revenue generated from the sale of the certificates goes to support our state parks.

Volume 3 of the Texas Music Project's "Don't Mess With Texas Music" CD is now available. Proceeds from the sale of the CDs benefit music education in Texas schools. Artists featured on the CD include Willie Nelson, the Texas Music Project's founding honorary chair, Nanci Griffith, Dale Watson, Robert Earl Keen, Jerry Jeff Walker and many others. For more information on the CD, click here.

Student Opportunities...

The Texas General Land Office is accepting submissions from children in grades K through 6 for its annual Treasures of the Texas Coast Children's Art Contest. Two winners from each of Texas' 24 planning regions will be chosen, and from these 48 winners, the grand prize winner will be selected. The winning works of art will appear on a calendar that will be distributed throughout the state. Click here for an entry form and more information.

In Closing . . .

May God bless us, everyone. It is my heartfelt hope that you have a wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year in 2006!


John Carona
State Senator - District 16