Tax reform panel starts work
The tax reform panel meets today:
Awaiting only final marching orders from the Texas Supreme Court, a high-profile committee of business leaders headed by a prominent Democrat is poised to tackle the divisive issues that roiled three sessions of the Legislature this year: tax and education funding overhauls.The more high profile this thing is, the more the chance that our Legislature will feel compelled to enact whatever the panel comes up with.
The 24-member Texas Tax Reform Commission, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry and led by his one-time political rival, Democrat John Sharp, will begin work today on recommendations for cutting school property taxes and raising new revenue for education through higher business and consumer taxes.
The issues dominated Austin while lawmakers struggled and squabbled, but they have receded as policymakers await the high court's ruling on a lawsuit by school districts over the state's funding system. But they are no less divisive, as shown by an outcry over the Sharp panel's lack of labor, education or consumer representatives.
Mr. Sharp said the panel would examine potential increases in sales taxes, higher cigarette and alcohol taxes, along with a redesigned state business tax.
"We are open to everything except an income tax," the former state comptroller said, adding that even expansion of gambling in Texas, which failed to pass the Legislature, will be on the table.
At the same time, Mr. Sharp said, the panel will respond to calls from state leaders and taxpayers to significantly cut back school property taxes.
"I take 'significant' to be at least a third," Mr. Sharp said. The current maximum school property tax rate is $1.50 per $100 valuation. Cutting the rate to $1 would save property taxpayers about $5.5 billion a year.
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