Committee Vote Coming Up on Fox in the Pension Henhouse; School Finance and Property Tax News

Committee Vote Coming Up on Fox in the Pension Henhouse: The Senate Nominations Committee is due to act March 16 on a State Pension Review Board appointee known for his criticism of guaranteed pension benefits. Josh McGee, Gov. Greg Abbott’s choice to chair the Review Board, is a functionary of the Houston-based Arnold Foundation that has led attacks on defined pension benefits across the country. We encourage you to send a letter via our website opposing this unfortunate nomination, which threatens to put a “fox in the henhouse” at the Pension Review Board.

Texas AFT Backs House School-Finance Proposal:  The leading House school-finance bill is HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who as chair of the House Public Education Committee held the second of two hearings on the bill Tuesday. Texas AFT took the opportunity to declare support for the bill, which would add $1.6 billion in aid to school districts to the House budget plan. The bill is still something of a work in progress–a first step toward a comprehensive remodeling of the state school-finance system. Texas AFT will be working with Rep. Huberty and House allies to improve it. But it is good enough already to warrant support, in contrast to the miserly approach taken by the Texas Senate thus far, which would result in a decline in per-pupil funding. Under HB 21, school districts would see an average increase of more than $200 per pupil under state funding formulas. That’s money districts urgently need to support educational programs and recruit and keep the quality teachers and staff our students deserve.

Property-Tax Rollback Bill Misfires:  SB 2, a property-tax rollback bill by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), has been advertised by its backers as a bill to fix the problem of rising property taxes. But it would not do a good job of that, while creating another serious problem–hindering the ability of local governments to deliver essential public services. Here’s how Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi explained the way the bill misfires in testimony delivered to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday:

Texas AFT represents education employees in both pre-K/12 and higher education. Texas AFT opposes SB 2’s imposition of new state restrictions on the ability of local governments to raise revenue needed for public services. Our reasons for opposing the interference with local decision-making proposed in SB 2 are as follows:

–Lowering property-tax rollback triggers and mandating rollback elections for community colleges will interfere with the ability of the colleges and their faculty and staff to deliver essential educational services for which the state does not provide funding.

–SB 2 as applied to municipal and county governments will hinder their ability to provide ancillary services benefiting the students in our public schools, such as law-enforcement services on school campuses and assistance with truancy prevention.

–SB 2 offers a misleading response to the problem of rising property taxes. The real problem with property taxes relates to taxes levied by school districts, which already are subject to stringent state rollback restrictions and other limitations. And the real source of that problem of rising school taxes lies in the state’s failure to fund our public schools adequately.