Shocker: Perry's New Tax Commission Industry Heavy

Whether to tax big businesses more will be decided by ... big businessmen

Gov. Rick Perry has appointed 24 members to a new Texas Tax Reform Commission, six weeks after naming former state Comptroller John Sharp to lead the blue-ribbon panel.

The bipartisan group is charged with recommending changes to the state's tax system with the idea of tapping into a new revenue source to pay for public schools. Texas lawmakers want to move away from the state's reliance on property taxes, but they can't agree on who should shoulder the larger share of the tax burden – businesses or consumers. That's where the business-heavy panel comes into play. The group includes representatives from various industries, and reads like a Who's Who of Capitol insiders.

The group's makeup has led at least one Houston representative to question the absence of educators and average consumers on the commission. "The Tax Reform Commission should refrain from recommending any increase in the state sales tax or other consumer taxes unless consumers and workers have a seat at the table," state Democratic Rep. Garnet Coleman said Monday. Coleman says he fears the group will be more inclined to recommend raising the sales tax than to hit businesses with a tax hike.

The commission includes three Austinites: Kenneth M. Jastrow II, chairman and CEO of Austin-based Temple-Inland Inc.; Jan Newton, president of SBC Texas; and Howard Wolf, chairman of Stewart & Stevenson Services, acting chair of Falcon Seaboard Cos., and former senior partner of Fulbright & Jaworski law firm.

Perry also named his former press director, Robert Howden, to serve as staff director for the commission. Howden, of Austin, had been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate in the House District 48 seat recently vacated by Rep. Todd Baxter. Ben Bentzin, however, is considered the GOP's preferred candidate, so the tax commission job should keep Howden off of the campaign trail, just as it's keeping Sharp, a Democrat, from running against Perry in the 2006 gubernatorial race.

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state government, Rick Perry, Robert Howden, Garnet Coleman, John Sharp, Ben Bentzin, Todd Baxter, Kenneth M. Jastrow II, Temple-Inland Inc., Jan Newton, SBC Texas, Howard Wolf, Stewart & Stevenson Services, Falcon Seaboard Cos., Fulbright & Jaworski

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