King Calls for Plan to Abolish School Property Tax

December 5, 2007

Weatherford Democrat

Galen Scott

State Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) wants a constitutional ban on the use of property taxes to fund public schools in Texas.

“I am absolutely convinced that my constituents, and frankly, the voters across Texas would rather pay a sales tax when they purchase something than a property tax for the rest of their life,” King said speaking by phone Wednesday.

King actually let the cat out of the bag at a fundraiser in Weatherford Tuesday. He told supporters a special House committee has been formed and charged with studying how to abolish the use of property taxes to fund public schools.

King said he was asked to chair the committee, but because he drew an opponent in the March primary election, may simply serve as a member instead.

The committee will probably consist of between nine and 15 representatives, to be named by House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) in January, according to King.

In addition to targeting current sales tax exemptions, King said the committee will be looking at the possibility of taxing electronic transactions.

“But the heart of it is going to be a retail sales tax,” King said.

The plan only applies to the maintenance and operation side of public school tax rates, which King said would bring about an average 56.1 percent reduction in everyone’s property tax bill in the state of Texas.

In addition to killing the Robin Hood debate, King said sales tax could alleviate problems in the housing market by decreasing mortgage payments. He noted the state budget is funded by sales tax, and said the move would represent a dependable source of funding for public schools.

“School property taxes might have worked 40 or 50 years ago, but it doesn’t work today and it’s never going to work again,” he said.

Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison, King’s opponent in the Republican primary election, was interested in hearing more specifics about King’s plan Wednesday.

“Who is he going to tax?” Tison asked. “Is it going to include doctors, realtors, restaurants? Is it going to be an assault on small business and middle class families?”

Tison said sales tax is known as a regressive tax.

“If you’re going to put the sales tax on goods and services, and replace the property tax with that, well, we’re not in the best of economies right now, and if our economy goes south, then there is going to be a decrease in spending and ultimately less revenue coming to public schools,” Tison added.

Tison also expressed concerns about what affect the change might have on things like medical care, housing, food and essential services.

King’s answer to critics concerned a sales tax would put a disproportionate burden on lower income families involves a rebate.

“The way you avoid a negative impact on the poor, is that at the end of the year, you make sure sales tax is rebated to them based on what the poverty level is for that year,” he said.

Once the committee members are announced, King said the group will begin holding a series of hearings across the state.

In order to abolish property-tax funded schools in Texas, the state constitution would have to be amended, a move which requires the support of two-thirds of the Legislature just to get on the ballot.

King said he expects vehement opposition from Democratic members of the Legislature, but is convinced, “by the time we get into the legislative session, that Republican House members and members of the Senate all across the state of Texas are going to want to do this.”

After testing the water at every service club and chamber of commerce in Parker and Wise Counties last summer, King said he finally decided sales taxes are the way to go.

“It’s a give me liberty or give me death kind of thing,” he said. “The citizens of the state of Texas are saying, ‘give me sales tax instead of property tax.’”