SENATE APPROVES PROPERTY TAX REDUCTION/EDUCATION REFORM BILL UNANIMOUSLY
|(From left) Staffers John Opperman and Von Byer confer with Senators Hinojosa, Shapiro, Staples and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst over provisions in House Bill 1|
The Senate passed a measure late Wednesday night that would cut local school property taxes by one-third over the next two years, put more money into Texas schools, increase equity between districts, and raise teacher salaries. House Bill 1 garnered support from all 31 Senators, after a compromise was reached on certain contentious issues.
Bill sponsor Senator Florence Shapiro said that she was proud of the way the Senate came together to support an important and necessary bill. "We came into this today a little fractionalized and we ended up probably in the 13 years I've been in the Texas Senate in one of the most cordial, congenial compromises that I believe I've ever seen," she said.
"What we accomplished here today is a very rare opportunity to see a body of 31 people who can actually get together and find their common ground and make it work."
The bill includes provisions to cut property taxes by 17 cents in 2007 and then by a further 33 cents in 2008, bringing local tax rates to $1 per $100 valuation. It would also allow districts to add four cents of local enrichment to the tax rate by local school board approval, with access to an additional two cents of enrichment in 2009. This enrichment tier is not subject to the state's revenue recapture system, but any further tax increases, which must be approved by voters, would be available for recapture.
Teachers would see a $2000 across-the-board pay raise, and districts would be permitted to create incentive plans to increase teacher performance and attract teachers to hard to staff schools, or teach understaffed subjects. The bill would require four years of math and science instruction for all high school students, and would align public school curriculum to improve performance in post-secondary education.
|Senator Florence Shapiro happily votes aye on House Bill 1, which would provide more money for public education while reducing local school property taxes.|
The bill would also create an electronic database system to expedite transfer of student records, and would increase transparency by requiring schools to provide detailed budget statements online. The Texas Education Agency sunset date would move to 2012, and the bill would implement a uniform school start date of the fourth Monday in August.
The bill will now go to the House for final approval. While Lt. Governor David Dewhurst would not speculate on how the bill will fare in the opposite chamber, he did say he worked closely with House Speaker Tom Craddick to find compromises on a number of issues. He added that this bill accomplishes the Senate's goals for this session. " We passed out a great bill in House Bill 1, that's going to raise our teacher's salaries, provide for incentives so our teachers work together and raise performance, dramatically increase accountability, lower local school property taxes and solve the lawsuit," he said.
The Senate also passed HB 5, the last component of the five bill package to cut property taxes. This bill would increase the per pack tax on cigarettes by one dollar. An amendment added by Senator Frank Madla would phase in this increase, with a 75 cent hike on January 1, 2007, and the remaining 25 cents on September 1, 2007.
Thursday, the governor opened the call for the special session, permitting legislation relating to tuition revenue bonds. These bonds are issued to state universities and secured by projected tuition revenues. The bonds can be used for capital improvements and new facilities.
Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini's Subcommittee on Capital Funding for Higher Education heard testimony from state university officials who are requesting bonds for their institutions. Senator Zaffirini said the committee will continue working through the weekend.
The Senate will reconvene Friday, May 12, at 11 a.m.