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Left Out

Preparing to take on the issue that has proved to be a thorn in the side of nearly every Texas politician, select legislators and aides to Gov. Rick Perry are meeting with members of the state's business community to discuss potential options for overhauling the state's so- called "Robin Hood" system of school funding—an issue lawmakers failed to resolve in this year's legislative session.

But not everyone is pleased with the way they are going about it.

"Clearly, it is a select few" who are taking part in these talks, said Suzy Woodford, the executive director of the Texas branch of Common Cause, a national government- watchdog group headquartered in Washington. "We believe our voice needs to be heard."

If legislators agree on the outline of a new school finance program before the governor calls a special session, the general public will have been left out of the talks leading up to the agreement, Ms. Woodford asserted.

"When issues that affect the public are being discussed, the discussions must be done in a public arena and not behind closed doors," she said.

Any talks now taking place, however, are simply discussions that staff members have daily with different groups on a variety of topics, said Robert Black, a spokesman for Gov. Perry.

Still, he added, there needs to be "a meeting of the minds" before Mr. Perry, a Republican, will call a special session to resolve the funding issue. "The governor is encouraging the leaders of all sides of the issue to come up with a workable solution," Mr. Black said.

Currently, school districts receive most of their funding through property-tax revenue. Districts that are the most property-rich are required to share their revenue with less well-to-do ones. That system has come under fire recently as more districts reach a state-mandated property-tax cap and still have budget shortfalls.

One solution would be a statewide income tax, according to Ms. Woodford. "Nothing at this point should be off the table," she said.

Under the Texas Constitution, a personal-income tax would have to be approved by voters, which would never happen, in Mr. Black's view.

"Any reasonable person would know that that would be dead on arrival," he said. "It is important to look at things that are feasible."

— Galley

Vol. 23, Issue 15, Page 19

Published in Print: December 10, 2003, as State Journal

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