Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mea Culpa Re: HISD Prop 1

In an October 17th post I argued that a "no" vote on HISD prop 1 was the best option for Texas children. I think it's important in political life to acknowledge when other people know more about something than you do and I think it's important to leave room open for those people to change your mind.

Briefly, the question before the voters is whether or not HISD should send several million dollars to the state to avoid having the state detach non-residential properties from the district's tax base and assign them to other districts whose taxable properties are less valuable. The vote is being forced by a school finance system that is fundamentally broken and does not acknowledge that a district like HISD, with significant numbers of students living below the poverty line and students who are English as a second language learners, needs more money per student that a district without those challenges.

Ninety percent of political questions don't have a right and wrong answer. There are somethings where compromise means contributing to the oppression of other people and compromise is not an option, but most of the time we're just deciding between different equally distasteful solutions.

I've long quipped that "anyone who tells you they understand Texas' school finance system is either lying, delusional or Scott Hochberg." Hochberg is a former member of the State House who spent two decades earnestly trying to fix school finance with varying degrees of success. He knows more than I do and yesterday he made his opinion on HISD Prop 1 known in the Houston Chronicle:

"'s the thing: If HISD writes a check to the state, it loses only the amount of the check. But, if the district gives up taxable property, it loses the recapture amount, plus all the bond taxes the district would have collected off that property.

That means the tax rate we all pay for bond payments, now and in the future, has to go up to make up for the taxes lost from the lost property.

And, once the property is gone, it's gone forever. No take backs or fingers crossed.

State law actually favors districts that send cash. There's an "early decision" discount available for those districts. A no vote means we pay the full price.

Voting no is like giving away your garage to avoid paying property taxes on your house. That's why no district in the state has ever chosen the option of having property removed instead of sending a check. It's a bad deal.

The argument for voting no is that it will "send a message" to the legislature that it needs to fix the school funding system, and the legislature will obey. Maybe, but I served 20 years in the Texas Legislature working on these issues, and I don't buy it. It's not a bet I would make, much less risk HISD taxpayers' money on."
I would argue on the "no take backs" bit that the legislature created detachment and the legislature can fix it, meaning that while there's no way to get the property back under current law there could be under future law and with school finance sure to be a major issue in the next session that's a possibility, but this is Scott Hochberg - and Scott Hochberg knows this issue far, far better than I.

I still don't believe there is a right and wrong on this vote. Anyone who looks at all the facts and votes "no" can do so with a clear conscience, but I've learned the wisdom of trusting people who are smarter than me. When Scott Hochberg says "yes" is the best course of action I have to believe he knows what he's saying.

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