Carlos Guerra: Politics of privilege alive and well in the latest Austin session

Read the last few paragraphs…he brings in toll roads to his argument.

Carlos Guerra: Politics of privilege alive and well in the latest Austin session
Web Posted: 04/25/2006 12:00 AM CDT
San Antonio Express-News

Close to the front of the Texas Constitution — the nation’s most-amended state charter — is Article 1, Section 3, which clearly states that “all free men have equal rights, and no man, or set of men, is entitled to exclusive separate public emoluments, or privileges.

But current state leaders’ recent policies reveal that the notion of granting “exclusive separate emoluments or privileges” to the wealthy is alive and well.

Your elected representatives are in Austin again, you may have heard, struggling for the umpteenth time to overhaul the state’s school-funding system. But driving their effort to revamp how Texas funds public schools is not the undeniable need to improve schools, or to better prepare young Texans to compete in the global marketplace, or to compensate teachers enough so that so many don’t leave teaching after their third year on the job.

No, our legislators are meeting solely to lower local property taxes by replacing the money they generate with other tax revenues.

It all began more than a decade ago when Texas’ highest court ruled that it was unconstitutional that some children were getting much better schooling because considerably more money was being spent on them because they lived in districts with very expensive real estate.

On their third try, lawmakers fashioned a plan that forced Texas’ wealthiest districts to share their wealth with average districts, setting off a class war that is still being waged in the Legislature, primarily by Orwellian lawmakers who decry class warfare.

Last year, however, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that local districts’ taxes had become a constitutionally verboten state property tax, and ordered the state to give districts “meaningful discretion” in how they spend local money.

The ruling provided great cover for those seeking to return to the bad-ol’-days when the wealthy could openly enjoy special privileges by giving them a whole new vocabulary to couch their arguments.

Last week, for example, the House Ways and Means Committee produced an amendment to a school-funding bill that would exempt future local property tax increases from the state’s wealth-sharing provisions.

In short, state money to local districts would allow them to lower property taxes from $1.50 per $100 valuations to $1.33, thereby giving them the “meaningful discretion” the court ordered. But subsequent increases of local taxes above $1.33 level would not have to be shared.

This would allow, for example, Texas richest districts to raise an additional $120 per student for every one-cent tax increase, while average districts would only raise $27 more with an equal tax increase.

As of Monday, that exemption had been removed by House members, but don’t be surprised if it makes a Lazarus-like revival and becomes law.

What else can we expect from a crowd intent on building toll roads that will allow those who can pay to whiz along at 80 mph while the rest of us tootle along at 35 mph between traffic lights?

And while visiting Port Aransas recently, I learned that the Texas Department of Transportation is now accepting $50 deposits for special $250 to $1,000 permits that will let holders “buy-pass” waiting lines to TxDOT ferries.

Holders of the pricy passes will get to cut in line and board a special, expedited ferry — that like the public ferries will be funded with tax money. How fair is that?