Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lambasted a school finance plan backed by House Speaker Joe Straus, calling it a Ponzi scheme and “dangerous political stunt” that would pave the way for a state income tax.
Republished from MySanAntonio.com, by Peggy Fikac, July 13, 2017. Image credit: image not covered by license
AUSTIN – A battle between the state’s top legislative leaders escalated Thursday when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lambasted a school finance plan backed by House Speaker Joe Straus, calling it a Ponzi scheme and “dangerous political stunt” that would pave the way for a state income tax.
Patrick unleashed his ire during a news conference he called to promote his own plan that calls for extra money for teachers and retired educators, along with funds for groups of schools with particular pressures, such as those that must send local funds to the state to help pay for the overall education system.
“This is a serious plan which is different from what the speaker laid out during the regular session and continues to talk about,” said Patrick. “I will not join the speaker in laying the groundwork for a state income tax.
“I’m offended to see anyone try to use public education as a political tool and a political stunt,” Patrick said.
His comments came just days before the beginning of a special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott. Its agenda includes some education-related items plus contentious issues such as a proposal to keep transgender people from using the multi-occupancy restrooms that align with their gender identity.
Straus has opposed the bathroom bill, which was championed by Patrick. He has suggested that the overall agenda set by Abbott and supported by Patrick is a pile of manure, saying a better focus would be reforming the state’s troubled school finance system.
“It’s encouraging to see the lieutenant governor’s newfound focus on school finance reform,” Straus said in a Thursday statement.
“Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session,” Straus said in a statement.
Patrick said the Straus-backed school finance plan was unsustainable because it initially would rely on deferring a $1.5 billion regular payment to schools by a short time, pushing that obligation into the next fiscal year.
Patrick’s plan initially would be paid for with a deferral of a $700 million payment to managed care organizations.
For the future, Patrick proposed a constitutional amendment that would dedicate the first $700 million in proceeds from the state lottery to bonuses for current and retired teachers. Most lottery proceeds — after paying for the cost of the game, including prizes — already go to education.
In addition, Patrick suggested trimming about 1 percent across the state’s entire budget to help pay for his plan.
Patrick emphasized that he also supports proposals detailed by Abbott, including an average $1,000 pay raise for teachers. The lieutenant governor said he expects them to pass through the Senate, over which he presides.
House members also would pass Abbott’s proposals “if they ever get a chance” to consider them on the floor, Patrick contended.
Asked whether he believes he must work with Straus to pass the proposals through the House, Patrick said that he has sought one-on-one meetings with the speaker beginning in the regular session but hasn’t been able to get one.
“I’m always willing to work,” Patrick said.
Abbott in a statement steered away from Patrick’s more incendiary comments.
“I applaud Lt. Governor Patrick and the Texas Senate for their intention to act swiftly and pass all of my special session agenda items,” Abbott said. “My office has been working with lawmakers in both the Senate and House these past six weeks, and if these items do not get passed, it will be for lack of will, not for lack of time.”
Patrick’s proposal appears to be in line with Abbott’s agenda for the special session, which includes an emphasis on teacher pay and benefits.
“The governor applauds the lieutenant governor and Senate for heeding his call to reward great teachers and put more money into our classrooms,” said Abbott spokesman John Wittman.
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