City, County and state leaders join forces to urge property tax relief, school finance reform

There were enough Austin City Council members there for a quorum.  

Mayor Steve Adler, City Manager Spencer Cronk, Travis County Commissioners, representatives from Austin ISD and a host of state lawmakers, some of them newly-elected.

They gathered at the Austin Convention Center Wednesday morning for a symposium highlighting the challenges proposed state revenue caps would present...and calling on the legislature to fund schools and help taxpayers.

"We do have a property tax crisis, we also have a school finance crisis and those are things that are both being caused by and need to be solved by the State of Texas," said District 6 Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan.  

Austin ISD points out they are the single largest payer of the state's "recapture" law -- it's intended to equalize money across Texas school districts by taking tax dollars from property-rich districts like Austin and redistributing that to property-poor districts.

"It's important for our taxpayers and our community to know that this year Austin Independent School District will be writing a check for $673 million of our taxes going to the state.  What's important about that is the State needs to pay its fair share of public education while at the same time providing tax relief to our taxpayers," said Geronimo Rodriguez, President of Austin ISD Board of Trustees.  

Mayor Adler wants taxpayers to know, major property tax relief really lies in the State's hands, not the City's. "Over 70% of the property tax increase we've all been feeling over the last 5 or 6 years is the result of the increase in property taxes that the state requires school districts to charge," Adler said.  

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, a republican, says everybody needs to be at the table on this. "The State constitution says that public education should be funded at least equally I would think by the State of Texas and I think that that is the reason that people are upset.  I'm upset as a republican.  I don't think it's fair," Daugherty said.  

Sheryl Cole, the newly-elected State Rep. replacing Dawna Dukes is hopeful reform will happen.

"For the first time we have the Speaker of the House saying that public education is #1.  We have the Lt. Governor saying yes he will entertain that and we have the Governor saying pretty much close to the same thing.  That has never happened in my lifetime in Austin," Cole said.  

Travis County Republican Party Chair Matt Mackowiak feels the responsibility to fix the property tax problem lies with more than just the state. "I'm partially sympathetic to the argument that recapture and robin hood -- that Austin doesn't benefit from that system, that it's punished more than most areas," he said. "What you don't see is the Mayor and the county taking any responsibility at all.  And I think they do have some responsibility because they almost never do anything that's good for taxpayers.  They raise taxes, they increase spending, they never look for efficiency."