Ordinarily, what goes on in Austin (no matter how amusing) is something I don’t write much about. There are plenty of other people, with more time and more resources, who can keep a better eye on things.

But Gov. Rick Perry’s school financing plan is so goofy — to say nothing of shortsighted, impractical and risky — that it deserves mention. Lots of mention. Like wondering how the governor of what’s supposed to be one of the leading states of the union can come up with one of the dumbest ideas any politician has ever come up with. Somehow, the governor has decided that since the way the state funds public schools is broken, the only practical solution is to fix it by breaking the funding system that pays for municipal services. At this rate, he’s going to make Bill “There wasn’t a Bible in the room” Clements look like Winston Churchill.

How bad is this idea? It’s so bad that people who wouldn’t want to be seen in the same room together, like Laura Miller and myself, agree that it’s a disaster. Talk about strange bedfellows — Perry’s plan has managed to unite most of the state’s business establishment, most of its school districts, and most of its minority community on the same side.

Why is it so bad? Perry wants to cap residential property tax rates while raising rates for a business property tax rate. This means that Austin will be telling the City of Dallas what its property tax rate can be. Which is where the local angle comes in. We have enough trouble in East Dallas and Lakewood getting streets paved, library books purchased, and cops on the beat the way things are. How much more difficult will it be to get these things when the budget planners at City Hall have a ready-made excuse — that there isn’t enough money because we can’t boost the tax rate to pay for them?

To their credit, the mayor and much of the city council sees this as a wee bit of a problem, and have done the requisite lobbying to make their views — and what should be our views — known. But this issue is so complicated and so confusing, it’s difficult to even guess about what will happen. I’m still trying to figure out why a pro-business, Republican governor wants to raise taxes on business, so many of whom contributed mightily to his election two years ago. I suppose there is some reason for it, but just thinking about what it might be makes my head hurt.

What is clear is that the governor doesn’t seem to quite understand the problem. Perry needs to realize that one of the things that government does (like building roads and providing drivers for the governor) is to pay for public schools. And since the Texas constitution says public schools have to be funded in an equitable way, no amount of wishful thinking and “less-government-is-the-best-government” posturing will change that. The constitution is the constitution — short of staging a coup and suspending it. And not even Perry and his cronies are that silly.

Something else to consider is the way schools and services are funded in Louisiana, where the system is similar to what the governor has proposed for Texas. Property taxes are capped (have been so for decades), business is taxed to make up the difference, and the state’s budgeting process is a fiasco even in good years. Needless to say, businesses say they avoid Louisiana because taxes are too high, and the schools are so bad they can’t find enough well-educated employees, even when the economic climate is more favorable.

Perhaps that’s what Perry wants as his legacy. It’s about the only thing that makes sense.


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