Naked City

Perry, Strayhorn spar over education funding

Naked City
Photo By Jana Birchum

After launching a cheery radio spot and swinging across Texas to promote his school finance plan to friendly audiences, Gov. Rick Perry returned to the Capitol on Monday, where the so-called Perry Plan faced its toughest criticism yet.

First, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn deemed the plan a failure, predicting it would create the largest tax hike in state history and force the 2007 Legislature to increase taxes by as much as $2.6 billion. The comptroller – a gubernatorial candidate who is challenging Perry in next year's GOP primary – also took issue with the centerpiece of Perry's plan – a $7 billion property tax cut – which Strayhorn said would leave the state with a $200 million shortfall. "This is the second plan Gov. Perry has offered up and, like the first, it simply does not add up," she said. She advised the governor to "pull down this plan, regroup, and try again."

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Photo By John Anderson

About an hour later, several members of the House Ways and Means Committee aired similar concerns, even after a team of Perry representatives laid out the proposal in greater detail. Committee members viewed the plan as a short-term bandage that fails to identify how the state will continue paying for future property tax cuts after the first budget year. They also pointed out the plan's failure to offer any significant reforms in business tax loopholes. The committee took no action. Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, allowed that Perry's radio ad and road show put lawmakers in a tough spot. It's one thing for the governor to try to sell the proposal to voters, Keffer said, but legislators have the onus of delivering on promises that aren't even in the plan. "Now we have to try to live up to that sound bite," he said.

Keffer had solicited the comptroller's analysis of the Perry Plan, but Strayhorn took advantage of the opportunity to publicly lambaste the proposal at a well-attended press conference.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt dismissed the comptroller's attacks as political grandstanding. "Everyone had hoped [Strayhorn] could put aside her political ambition with her well-established pattern of cheap political attacks to provide an honest analysis," Walt said. "Unfortunately, she is trying to stand in the way of a record $7 billion property tax cut and a $5 billion increase for schools to further her political agenda." Walt also took issue with Strayhorn's refusal to present her own school finance plan. The comptroller has so far declined the invitation, saying Perry would thumb his nose at anything she proposed.

Perry's plan did get at least a partial thumbs-up on Monday, with the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity and a new group called First Class Education touting the governor's support for "the 65 cent solution." The proposal stems from an anti-tax sentiment that Texas taxpayers spend more money on education, while school districts spend less on actual classroom instruction. The proposal would require school districts to spend at least 65 cents of every education dollar in the classroom. The idea is that the plan would reap an additional $1.6 billion for instruction – without raising taxes. Perry's radio ads plug the "65 cent solution," and House Public Ed Chair Kent Grusendorf added the plan as an amendment to HB 2, the school finance bill that legislators passed on Tuesday. The tax component of the plan will be considered separately.

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Texas Legislatureeducation, Rick Perry, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Jim Keffer, Kathy Walt, First Class Education, Americans for Prosperity, Kent Grusendorf, school finance

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