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by Tom Pauken    Tue, Jan 10, 2006, 07:59 PM
John Sharp
"Don’t tax you. Don’t tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree" was an expression coined by the late Senator Russell Long of Louisiana who was the longtime Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. It is an apt expression as Gov. Perry’s tax reform commission conducts public hearings all across Texas and hears recommendations on various solutions to the school finance issue which must be resolved by a June 1st deadline set by the Texas Supreme Court. It is expected that Gov. Perry will call another special session sometime in April to address this issue once the party primaries and run offs are completed.


Conventional wisdom has it hat the legislature will come up with a patchwork, short-term solution to the Robin Hood scheme of excessive reliance on property taxes which has been declared unconstitutional by the Texas Supreme Court. But, this may be a real opportunity for the legislature, Speaker, Lt. Governor, and Governor to "bite the bullet" and fix the problem for the foreseeable future by putting in place a broad-based, low rate tax that would be far more equitable than the current Robin Hood system.


The two plans that best meet those goals are David Hartman’s business activities tax and Albert Huddleston’s flat-rate income tax. As regular readers of DallasBlog know, I favor Hartman’s BAT while Scott Bennett supports the Huddleston approach. Both plans would rid us of Robin Hood and share many similarities, particularly when it comes to making sure that reform of the current system is part and parcel of any change in the way we finance elementary and secondary education in Texas.


It is not right that 15 in every 16 businesses in Texas avoid the state’s main business tax (the franchise tax) because of loopholes in the law. John Sharp, the Chairman of Perry’s Tax Commission makes a good point when he states: "There are going to be some people that are going to hold out until the end, that think that the good Lord put ‘em here not to pay taxes. But, most of the business community knows that that’s not a situation that can work."


Rick Perry deserves a lot of credit for burying the hatchet with his former opponent John Sharp and appointing his fellow Aggie Classmate to chair this Commission. Now, if the Lt. Governor will get over his grudge against Sharp – who also ran for Lt. Governor against David Dewhurst – and work with Sharp instead of going off in a different direction with his separately appointed Senate Committee to study the issue, then this could be a real opportunity to rid ourselves of Robin Hood and establish a much fairer system of funding public education in our state. I’m betting that John Sharp is just the man to get that done. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sharp's Commission doesn’t propose a solution along the lines of the business activities tax which has been developed by Austin businessman David Hartman. It is the kind of proposal that is fair to all and one that could win bi-partisan support from a majority of legislators if the Sharp Commission were to recommend its adoption.
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