State Journal: Vouchers and taxes

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School vouchers won't be a hot topic during the Texas gubernatorial race after all, now that the Republican challenger, George W. Bush, has distanced himself from any plans to use state funds to help parents pay for private schools.

Although he has spoken often in favor of school choice, Mr. Bush apparently will cling during this campaign to what he considers a more appealing message: no income taxes.

In a speech to the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals this month, Mr. Bush declared it "fiscally impossible'' to launch a statewide voucher system without also levying an income tax.

In rhetoric reminiscent of his father, the former President, he said his no-new-taxes pledge comes first.

At best, Mr. Bush would support a pilot voucher plan for inner cities, aides said.

Earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Ann W. Richards said she was considering the merits of a voucher plan. She decided against it, but signaled an openness to increasing choice among public schools.

Her campaign aides were quick to use Mr. Bush's voucher position as an issue of their own, noting that he has yet to set out a clear stance on education policy and that other issues take a back seat to his stand on the income tax.

As political rhetoric focuses on taxation and how the state is trying to limit its spending, the Texas comptroller's office has released data showing that property owners are picking up an increasing share of the tab for education.

The latest school-finance law, which is now being reviewed by the state supreme court, has increased local property taxes by a total of $493 million, the comptroller found.

Local taxes account for $8.67 billion in school spending across Texas, up 6 percent from last year, while the state contributes about $7 billion.

Business-property taxes rose under the new law, but homeowners took the biggest hit, the report found, due to rising home prices and the removal of homestead exemptions.

Lawmakers do not like the rise in property taxes but feel hamstrung, since money in the state budget is scarce.

As expected, the report drew spirited reaction from both candidates for governor.

The Bush campaign said the spiraling property taxes are Ms. Richards's doing.

"Is he going to pay for this through an income tax or a monstrous sales-tax increase?'' an aide to Ms. Richards countered.--LONNIE HARP

Vol. 13, Issue 39

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