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Texas Rep. Grusendorf Guts School Finance Bill; Wants "Shell" to Send to Senate

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX – A "shell" public school finance bill to send to the Texas Senate has turned out to be a "shell game" for many members of the Texas House - and it's a gamble many of them are not willing to take.

Rep. Kent Grusendorf's (R-Arlington) committee substitute for HB 1 was kicked out of the House Select Committee on Public School Finance on Saturday. Today on the House floor, he offered an amendment to strip his own bill of two of its major revenue-generating proposals - the authorization of video lottery terminals (VLTs) and the authorization of a state payroll tax.

"This is not my preference," said Grusendorf in laying out his amendment. However, he said it had become "very apparent" that the bill as it was voted out of committee was not going to pass.

His hope, said the Select Committee chair, is to get a "shell bill" to the Senate so the legislative process can go forward. The Legislature is only 15 days away from the end of the 30-day special session.

With those two major revenue sources removed from the bill, school funding levels would revert so that "every school district gets the same money they get now," said Grusendorf, unless the Senate or a conference committee can identify new revenue sources. The amendment would ensure that all districts are held harmless, he said, would keep the new formulas in place "and move the process forward."

There has been much opposition to the authorization of the use of VLTs in Texas from both Republican and Democrats. On Monday, a group of more than a dozen Republican House members held a press conference to voice their opposition to VLTs and to announce they have enough votes to scuttle a bill that included them as a state revenue source.

Also on Monday, Gov. Rick Perry held a press conference and announced his opposition to the state payroll tax in the substitute that cleared the committee.

Grusendorf said he is thus taking out those two sources of revenue and instead expanding and increasing the state sales tax in order to "get a vehicle to send to the Senate."

That brought Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) to his feet. "You're going to continue the regressive elements (sales tax) and eliminate anything to do with business and VLTs?" he asked Grusendorf. "And you're asking us to vote on this in good conscience and send it to the Senate?

"I want to have the right to solve the problem. I don't want to punt to the Senate." He urged Grusendorf to have the bill recommitted to the House committee.

Grusendorf responded that with the session halfway over, he believes removing the "two most contentious issues" - VLTs and a payroll tax - from the bill will help move the bill forward. He insists that the House will have final say when a bill comes back from the Senate.

In the meantime, Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) today filed SB 1, her own school finance bill.