Perry Makes the Call

The long-awaited special session on school finance begins this week

On Tuesday, declaring, "It's time to take our best shot," Gov. Rick Perry announced he was calling a 30-day legislative special session on Educational Excellence and Property Tax Relief, to begin Tuesday, April 20. In a brief Capitol press conference followed by public appearances in Corpus Christi, Perry reiterated the major principles of his legislative proposal, which he said would eliminate the current funding recapture system ("Robin Hood"), add $2.5 billion in new school funding, lower property taxes by $6 billion, and increase the level of equity in the statewide school finance system to 98% of Texas students. At stake in the special session, Perry said, would be "nothing less than the future of this state and the education of 4.2 million Texas children." He said that he expected the Lege to remain in Austin for "as long as it takes" to get the job done, even if it means "one or two or three" special sessions.

Perry called his plan a "permanent solution" delivering "permanent tax relief" that would result in an average $418 annual tax cut for taxpayers yet increase annual funds for school districts by $375 per student. He dismissed alternative proposals circulated in recent weeks (e.g., Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's call for cutting property taxes immediately by half), saying, "Cutting property taxes by half means a $20 billion tax bill" that would negatively impact business and job growth. Perry said he continues to talk with legislative leaders but that there is a consensus on "the major goals: eliminating Robin Hood and cutting property taxes." Asked if he thought he would have better luck than his predecessor-once-removed Ann Richards did with the 1991 Legislature, Perry said, "I'm certainly not Ann Richards ... and there is a substantially different Legislature in place." He added that critics pointing to the state's dozen superwealthy districts that would be freed from any recapture obligation under his plan are "missing the mark" because his proposal remains "the most equitable in the history of the state." Asked about Perry's claims, the Equity Center's Wayne Pierce, who advocates for property-poor districts, said, "It is impossible to tell from the information released thus far whether the governor's plan in fact increases the level of equity in the system."

Perry said he would listen to suggestions, but he does not expect to add other items of business to the session call. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has asked that Perry add restoring funds to the Children's Health Insurance Program, and business groups have pressed for additional "tort reform" measures, specifically making it harder for workers to sue for asbestos injuries.

The governor said that, whatever plan is adopted, "We must not confuse the biggest price tag with the best value," and that however the sessions turn out, "We won't fail because we refuse to try."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

School Finance, Rick Perry, Robin Hood, public school finance, recapture, Ann Richards, Carole Keeton Strayhorn

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