A bill proposing special taxing districts to fund increased school security is being drafted by three Houston-area lawmakers. The Texas School District Safety Act would allow local school districts to create special taxing districts to hold elections for potentially raising sales or property taxes to fund the costs of enhanced screening and other security measures at K-12 campuses.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, are sponsoring the bill in the Senate while Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, will carry the not-yet-filed bill in the House.
An Austin American Statesman op-ed headlined Security tax proposal sidesteps financial realities quotes Whitmire as terming the bill “local option, local control.” “This is a Texas solution to save lives without sacrificing and trampling our freedoms. We’ll let school districts decide for themselves what works. A blanket state mandate won’t work, nor will a one-size-fits-all policy,” says the Statesman quoting Williams.
In New taxes for school security in Texas? Maybe, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, per Williams, the bill is currently being drafted with funding plan details still to be finalized. March 8 is the deadline to file most bills.
It also notes:
As described, the proposal raises a lot of questions:
For the first time, school districts could levy sales taxes, but only if cities, counties and special districts haven’t already reached the statewide 2 percent local sales tax cap. Cities rely heavily on sales tax revenue, and this would take a future funding source away from them.
Currently, the primary source of revenue for school districts is property taxes, which also are capped under state law. The lawmakers described their proposal as “separate from all other district funding,” which presumably means outside the state cap.
This will be a crucial detail of the bill when it is filed.
Another point raised by the Star-Telegram comes with Texas’ history of school finance lawsuits based on property value inequities within the state’s 1,000+ school districts. Under Williams’ plan as described, “two districts with the same number of students and the same property tax levy could have vastly different amounts of money to spend on security.”
Americans for Prosperity, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and Texas Public Policy Foundation, a coalition of conservative groups, announced their opposition to the Texas School District Security Act characterizing it as “an example of well-intentioned legislation that appeals to the emotions of lawmakers and citizens but will prove ineffective.”
The coalition states in a release:
School shootings are horrendous and every taxpayer wants kids safe in schools. However, citizens should realize that the proposed legislation is a tax increase that is not going to make their schools safer.
Taxpayers are already paying for security in every city and county across the state. And, while it may not seem like it due to the massive media attention, statistically, school violence has been declining since its peak in 1993.
Whether the Texas School District Security Act provides for a sales taxing or a property taxing jurisdiction, creation of new special purpose taxing districts will not increase school safety. Instead, it will heap one more tax on hard-working Texans already facing a proliferation of these special purpose districts.
Quoting Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ Taxing Facts report, the coalition says “the biggest increase in property taxing entities in the past two decades has been special purpose districts. We currently have more than 4,000 property taxing entities in Texas.”
“Special purpose districts (SPD’s) have accounted for 67 percent of the growth in local entities levying sales tax since 1993, comprising 6 percent of these entities in 2002 and 13.1 percent in 2011.”
With SPD sales tax collections growing more than 1,700 percent between 1993 and 2011 and SPD numbers increasing from 9 to 193, another Texas Comptroller report, Your Money and Local Debt, revealed local government debt doubling from 2001 to 2011, with the special purpose districts generating the biggest percentage of this debt increase.
The coalition reminds that “Taxing entities are proliferating in Texas. We don’t need another one to protect our kids.”