The Senate today unveiled what Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst called a "bold new" school finance reform bill that would reduce property taxes while increasing funding to the state's public education system. "The Senate is once again united," said Dewhurst, "we have 31 votes...all 31 senators have signed on." The plan would reduce property taxes from the current maximum of $1.50 per $100 dollar valuation down to one dollar. It would make up for this loss of revenue by closing the franchise tax loophole to include service industries, while excluding sole-proprietorship businesses, saving an estimated $5.56 billion in taxes. The plan also allows for districts to levy a fifteen-cent local enrichment tax that would add $6 billion to district coffers. According to Senator Steve Ogden, the tax system in the state reflects a 20th century agriculture based economy, and must be updated to reflect a 21st century service economy. Other sources of revenue could include an increase in the cigarette and motor vehicle taxes.
The proposed plan will add an estimated $6.7 billion to the state's education system. This new money will be used to increase teachers' salaries to the national average, fund textbooks and new technologies, and to raise academic standards in schools. Additionally, the proposed legislation would increase funding to the state's pre-kindergarten program, fund a new teacher mentoring system, and create a dual-immersion language pilot program. San Antonio Senator Leticia Van De Putte lamented that the state's current education system does not adequately prepare Texas students for post-secondary education. The new bill will focus on making Texas high schools a pipeline to continuing education.
Lawmakers admitted that the legislation presented today will likely see many revisions as both houses work on it throughout the session. "This is a starting point, our feet are not in concrete, " said Dewhurst, "Our number one goal is the best education for our children and to provide our homeowners and businesses with the property tax relief they need."
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, January 13th, at 10:00 A.M.