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TX House Democrats Blast HB3

By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com

Austin, TX –

You just thought the fireworks were over!

In a post-July 4 press conference, House Democrats today blasted HB 3, what they call the "Republican tax bill," saying the legislation - due to be taken up on the House floor Wednesday - is not a school bill.

"This is not a school bill. Even (House Speaker) Tom Craddick said this is a property tax relief bill. It's a property tax swap bill," said Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), that makes the middle class pay for a property tax cut for the property wealthy. He said there is nothing new in the bill, but said it is "still chilling" when one thinks of the prospects of increasing taxes on a majority of Texans to give tax breaks to businesses and wealthy property owners. "It is a property tax and sales tax increase bill."

"None of these numbers add up," said Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston) of the bill, "and we're being expected tomorrow to vote on this stuff with virtually no opportunity to make any amendments on the things that are important to this group."

The House earlier today approved floor rules for taking up HB 3 tomorrow, which include that all second reading amendments must be pre-filed by 5 p.m. today and no amendments will be allowed that are not revenue neutral.

"What they're selling, we ain't buying," said Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) of the Republican proposal. He said when a "good plan" emerges, House Democrats will "step up to the plate and offer legitimate ideas."

Coleman described HB 2 and HB 3, the public school reform bill and the tax bill as "bad public policy with no relation to each other in what they do for public education in Texas. "One does something for public education, but not enough," he said, while the other provides a tax cut for a few paid for by middle-income Texans.

"While our ship is sinking, they're drilling more holes in the boat. Ultimately, we'll sink even faster," said Gallego of the Republican proposal. He said that the people he represents agree that more money needs to be spent on public education. "It's the single best investment there is," when dealing with other issues such as crime or economic development. "Our system literally depends on the quality of our public schools." While property tax relief is important, said Gallego, it is a question of priorities. Noting that every taxpayer he represents would like to have property tax relief, the Alpine Democrat added that they would not, however, want to "sacrifice the quality of schools for that purpose."

Coleman said if there were some component in HB 3 to fund public education, "We'd be looking at HB 3 a lot different than we are now." He predicted two components of the bill relating to dedicating funds for the future will likely draw amendments during tomorrow's debate - one that dedicates 15 percent of any dollars above the comptroller's revenue estimate to continue to buy down property taxes at the local level, plus any amount over the $7 billion raised by HB 3 also being earmarked for property tax relief.

"It is what it is - a property tax relief bill," he said, describing the bill as transferring money from middle-income households to give a tax break to those with more property. "They claim it is revenue neutral," he said. "Ask those who are getting a tax cut if it's revenue neutral to their pocketbook." That is not what most Texans will experience, said the Houston Democrat.

Coleman said it is "no mystery" that the cost to middle income taxpayers and consumers comes from the consumption tax increase.

Hochberg said the original proposal was to bring the business tax up to date as a means of increasing revenue. That hasn't happened in this bill, he said, noting the bill coming to the House floor Wednesday has a $7 billion cut in the property tax, but a $7 billion increase in sales taxes.

"This is bad policy. It's not good for our state. It's not good for taxpayers. And it will not increase economic development in our state."

Support from some legislators for the bill is a result of Gov. Rick Perry "whipping them in line," said Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston). "You will see them vote for the bill - holding their nose, and holding their toes, they'll be voting for this bill."

Regarding the Texas Supreme Court's hearing beginning tomorrow of the appeal of the lawsuit that led a district judge to declare the state's public school finance system unconstitutional, Thompson reminded of remarks several months ago from Perry that he knew how the Supreme Court would rule. "Those are the governor's boys who are going to be listening to that," she said. "Remember him saying 'those are my boys?'"

Coleman reiterated that most House Democrats would like for HBs 2 and 3 to be linked, saying that most of his constituents are of the opinion that if they are going to be asked to pay new taxes, they want that additional revenue to go to public education.

"All the tax relief the Republicans were going to give the state of Texas..." began Rep. Jim Dunnam (D-Waco), trailing off to remind that this is the third time there has been a tax equity note on a Republican plan - this one raising taxes on 90 percent of Texans to support the remaining 10 percent of wealthier Texans.