Lawmakers Pitch Income Tax, School Finance Reform Plan

Quixotes saddle up their horses

Two lawmakers used last week's ongoing debate over school finance as a well-timed opportunity to pitch an income tax plan to pay for public education. The press conference drew only scant attention from media reps and other legislators, but that's the sort of uphill challenge that income tax proponents have come to expect. While the issue has predictably failed to catch fire in the public arena, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, insist there's growing support for the measure both in and out of the state Capitol. Members of the League of Women Voters of Texas appeared at the press conference to throw their support behind the proposal, and more endorsements are expected to drift in over the next couple of months.

"I'm amazed by the variety of people who tell me privately that they like my income tax plan," Rodriguez said, referring to his proposed legislation (HB 90), which he admits has virtually no chance of passing out of the House Public Education Committee. Undaunted by the grim prognosis, Rodriguez and Shapleigh vowed to keep pressing their arguments throughout the school finance debate. The issue is gaining popularity among some teachers' groups, as well as realtors whose livelihoods would benefit from the property tax reductions that would follow the creation of an income tax.

Critics of both the education bill and its tax companion (HB 2 and HB 3, respectively) say the current package would provide benefits to homeowners and upper-income residents while failing to address equitable funding for schools. "What this debate should be about is great schools, not lowering property taxes for the wealthy," Shapleigh said. The El Paso senator says he's been selling the income tax idea to a growing number of receptive audiences across the state. The existing tax system, he said, "is outdated, terribly regressive, and inadequate to educate our children."

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Eddie Rodriguez, Eliot Shapleigh, League of Women Voters, school finance, HB 2, HB 3, income tax, House Bill 90

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