Texans want more school safety, tax relief and health insurance with budget surplus
What would you do with $33 billion?
As state lawmakers prepare to craft the next biennial budget, most Texans favor using some of the state’s multi-billion-dollar surplus on school safety, mental health services and tax relief for businesses and property owners.
A statewide poll conducted by the University of Houston Hobby School also found that most Texans agree that a good portion of the $33 billion surplus should be kept in the state’s coffers for future consideration.
Of those polled, 85% favored using the money on school safety and security grants. Campus security has become a priority for some Texans after a gunman killed 21 people, including 19 school children, at a Uvalde elementary school in May. But Republicans, who hold considerable majorities in the Texas House and Senate, have not signaled support for tighter gun laws, KUT reported.
The respondents were asked whether they support spending on “pay for security systems, metal detectors, fencing, door-locking systems, alarm systems, and more secure doors and windows,” according to the poll. More than 80% of the respondents favored building five additional mental health hospitals in Texas.
More than 70% of those surveyed supported expanding the so-called business personal property tax exemption -- or how much businesses spend on equipment such as computers and furniture -- from the current $2,500 to $100,000. Although Texas markets itself as a pro-business state, a 2019 analysis by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association found that the tax makes the state less competitive.
More than 70% of the respondents also favored expanding the homestead property tax exemption from the current $40,000 to $60,000. Property tax relief is an issue both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick championed during their reelection campaigns, although they disagree on how much of the surplus should be spent on the relief, the Texas Tribune reported last month.
A majority of respondents also favored a sales-tax exemption for educational items and electronics – supplies like textbooks and laptops -- for college students purchased during the annual tax-free weekend that comes before an academic school year begins. Tax relief on other items including baby wipes, diapers and feminine hygiene products also received strong support. State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has filed what’s been dubbed the “pink tax” bill to make menstrual products tax exempt.
“We have tax exemptions for a variety of other products that are not medically necessary, that are not requirements for going to school and going to work and ensuring that you have the protection you need,” Howard told KUT in November when she filed the legislation. “This is something that all women use for a good portion of their lives. Therefore, it is a discriminatory tax.”
If passed, Texas would join two dozen states with the tax exemption already on the books.
Respondents also strongly favored expanding postpartum Medicaid coverage in Texas from 6 months to 12 months. That includes 91% of respondents who identified as Democrats, 72% who identified as Independents, and 63% as Republicans.
When asked how much of the surplus should be saved, the most popular answer, from about 27% of respondents, was between $10 billion to $14 billion. Only 8% of respondents think between $25 billion and the entire surplus should be unspent.
The survey was conducted in English and Spanish between Jan. 9 and 19 and had 1,200 respondents.
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