Texas Tax Reform Commission

The Governor's blue-ribbon Texas Tax Reform Commission held its penultimate meeting today in Houston, gathering public input on how to overhaul the state's tax structure and find a new way to pay for public schools. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The current Robin Hood school funding system that takes revenue from property rich school districts and gives it to property poor districts has been declared unconstitutional by the Texas Supreme Court, and the legislature is under court order to fix the problem by June first of this year or the courts will do it. The governor created the bi-partisan tax reform commission to study the problem and come up with a new tax system that will reduce school property taxes and still pay for schools. Chairman John Sharp:

"The first decision that we made as a commission is that we're gonna find a way to take school maintenance and operations property taxes, which are about a dollar fifty around the state now -- one dollar fifty cents per hundred -- down to a dollar, so about a one third cut in those school property taxes."

Sharp says the goal is find new revenue streams to replace the revenue that will be lost by cutting school property taxes, and the commission has been getting all kinds of suggestions on how to do that.

"You get people that talk about using the sales tax to do that, taking exemptions out of the sales tax, increasing the sales tax, all kinds of things like that, and that has its detractors. It runs the gamut of how you do it, but I think there's general agreement that school property taxes are too high and we gotta find a way to lower'em."

Through several regular sessions and several special sessions the legislature has been unable to solve the school funding problem. With the courts' "fix it or else" ultimatum looming large, Sharp says it's time to put this problem to rest once and for all.

"Because you have to have it done and fixed by June first, and so, we'll probably have our recommendations finished in bill form and everything to the governor by the end of this month is our goal."

The governor is expected to call another special session to debate the commission's recommendations and vote on them next month. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.