Wants Better Schools but Less Taxes

RECEIVED Mon., Oct. 6, 2003

So Molly Ivins and Louis Dubose think taxes are "low" in Texas ["Leave No Child Behind," Oct. 3]? Tell that to the homeowners, many of them young working people with average incomes, who are confronted with property tax bills equivalent to 6-9 months of additional mortgage payments each year. (I personally know many average Austin residents with modest homes who are getting property tax bills of $4,000, $5,000, even $6,000.) And tell that to the people of limited means who face an 8.25% sales tax as they struggle to pay for daily necessities and keep themselves and their kids clothed and shod.
   The authors have certainly got it right when they say the schools are underfunded. But the conclusion we need to reach is not that taxes are too low, but that criminal amounts of money are being squandered. Students (and teachers too, by the way) are getting a raw deal while bean-counting education bureaucrats with no actual classroom duties are feeding at the trough of steady, fat paychecks and cash bonuses. (Cash bonuses, at a time that students are seeing their after-school programs and music and art classes cut for lack of funds! How do these "education professionals" face themselves in the mirror?) Rather than raise taxes, we need a loud public outcry to make better use of the money we're bleeding from the citizens already.
Jenny Nazak
   Louis Dubose responds: I have no argument with Ms. Nash. And it could be that she has no argument with me. (I pay $8,000 in property taxes on a 900-square-foot bungalow in what, for marketing purposes, I would like to call the Lower East Side of Tarrytown.) Property taxes are high in Texas because we are one of very few states without an income tax. So more and more of our tax revenue comes from property taxes and sales taxes. Sales taxes place an unfair burden on people with the lowest income, who spend most of their income on taxable items. As burdensome as they are, property taxes are at least progressive. People who can afford expensive homes pay higher taxes. As contradictory as it seems, high property taxes do not make Texas a high-tax state. A progressive income tax would lower everyone's property-tax bills. As for waste in public schools: I attended public schools in Texas. And graduated from a state college. I then taught in Texas public schools for 14 years, in East Texas, Houston, and finally Austin. I saw very little waste. Performance bonuses for administrators are to me, a former teacher and spouse of an AISD campus administrator, odious. (Except, perhaps, as they might pertain to my wife.) The career-ladder pay increases, a successful but discarded Ross Perot reform that recognized exceptional teachers by increasing their pay, made far more sense. But bonuses for administrators fit hand-and-glove with the Bushies' and the corporate community's program to impose a corporate model on our public schools. At least a personal income tax would allow us to capture part of the millions Dallas Superintendent Mike Moses will have added to his pay when he single-handedly saves the Dallas Independent School District. According to our number-crunching friends at the Texas Center for Public Policy Prioritiies, Texas ranks 46 of 50 in the percentage of personal income paid in taxes.
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