Lawmakers: State Income Tax Won't be Ruled Out in School Funding Debate

The main effort in the 140 day 2019 Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, which begins today, will be to cut local property taxes by fully funding public schools, and some Democrats are suggesting a radical way to do that--a state income tax, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

State Rep Donna Howard (D-Austin) says she does not personally support a state income tax, but she says it should not be automatically rejected as the state tries to deal with skyrocketing property taxes that are driving families out of their homes in the state's urban areas.

"Voters would have to approve that," she said.  "But the Legislature is the gatekeeper, to determine if the people even have the option to vote on it," Howard said.

For decades, a state income tax has been the 'third rail' of Texas politics, even touching it means certain political death.  In the 1990s, then Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock led an effort to approve a Constitutional Amendment, which means the voters would have to approve any attempt to impose a state income tax.

"It does require that the voters approve the income tax, and the rate at which that tax would be set," Howard said.

While the lack of a state income tax is frequently cited as a reason for the state's two decades of economic prosperity, more and more economists question whether higher property tax rates are not countering any advantage the state gets from not having an individual income tax.

Howard says the number one reason why people's property taxes are rising so rapidly is the failure of the state over the past several sessions to appropriate enough money to properly fund public schools, forcing local districts to instead rely on local property tax money for what today amounts to nearly two thirds of their operating budgets.

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