Naked City

'No More Taxes: Capisce?'

Gov. Rick Perry left for Italy this week on an "economic development" tour, much to the amusement of state Democrats and the befuddlement of legislators still waiting to hear if the guv plans to call a special session for public school finance "reform." The orthodox buzz remains that Perry will call a session for early April, although the legislative "consensus" he considered necessary to such a session has yet to develop, at least visibly.

Moreover, the primary elections deprived House Speaker Tom Craddick of two Democratic lieutenants – Ron Wilson of Houston and Glenn Lewis of Fort Worth, whom Dem primary voters apparently found a mite too cozy with the GOP. Though the defeated Craddicrats will remain in office until January, House rules require them to step down immediately from their chairmanships – and Ways and Means Chair Wilson was expected to help Craddick ramrod any tax-reform proposal. Meanwhile, Lewis was one of the few Dems willing to entertain school vouchers. Craddick lamented the loss of his "bipartisan" colleagues, and Public Ed Chair Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, said the chair juggling might require an extra week of preparation before a session can be called.

Before departing for Italy, Perry took the opportunity to go government-bashing in Houston, proposing a property-tax cap before a rally organized, at the governor's request, by local right-wing talk-radio hosts. Perry says he will ask the Lege to install a 3% annual appraisal-hike cap (although the Lege rejected a 5% cap last spring) and to require local jurisdictions to go to the voters any time they want to exceed the cap. Insisting that tax increases have "outpaced inflation and population growth" – although his supporters never tire of declaring Texas a low-tax mecca – Perry said he wants "a tax cut to be a tax cut," acknowledging that recent legislative cuts have effectively moved those former state expenses down to the local level.

The state's dailies were quick to point out that the governor's proposal – in addition to offering absolutely nothing to resolve the public school finance crisis – ignores the fact that local taxes have climbed to compensate for decreasing state support for schools, health care, and all social services. Commented the Houston Chronicle, "The bulk of property taxes go to pay for public schools. If Perry and the Texas Legislature had done their duty and provided an equitable school finance system, property taxes would already be a lot less onerous."

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