Tax Reform Commission Visits Nacogdoches

For six months a bi partisan commission has traveled the state listening to tax reform ideas and opinions. Those giving testimony in Nacogdoches could have anticipated glazed over eyes. Mayor Bob Dunn even began his testimony with, "I know you've heard this before." But members of the 24-member commission led by Texas Comptroller John Sharp often engaged those who testified in dialogue.

They're looking for ways to change an antiquated tax system. They're wanting to close loop holes that protect corporations, but burden small business owners. Muhammad and Helenah Abdullah testified. Their sole proprietorship cleaning business should be exempt from many of the tax reforms, but they still feel the heavy burden of business and local taxes. Muhammad said, "If you could just give us a fifty cent break for us to take to the house we would appreciate it." His wife Helenah said, "We are taxed to the hilt. We want to provide benefits to our long time employees, but can't afford it. "

School superintendents sat in the audience too. They know well the sobering affect an unconstitutional school property tax has on the fact finding mission. Chairman John Sharp explained, "The end goal of everything is to drop the school property taxes down to $1.00. Now they're about $1.50, so it's about a 1/3 reduction in school taxes. We believe we can do that in some ways that are going to surprise a lot of people in terms of intrusion of their business."

Appraisal caps are under consideration, something opposed by rural city and county governments. Nacogdoches County Judge Sue Kennedy initiated the most feedback from the commission. She said, "Our primary source of revenue is property tax. As you complete your charge I hope you'll consider the ramifications upon county government abilities to carry out constitutional and statutory responsibilities."

The latest information on what Texans think about taxes and their schools comes from a statewide poll conducted by the Dallas Morning News. It shows 52 % of Texans say they would pay more in state taxes if the money went to schools. Thirty-nine percent oppose' an increase. More than 2,400 registered voters were surveyed by telephone.

But Kennedy knows that taxpayers demand wise spending. She asked in riveting testimony that government take a look at itself when seeking tax reform. Kennedy stated, "A new tax model for the same government structures is like pouring new wine into old wine skins."

Lawmakers are expected to return to Austin in April to tackle the tax structure issue. The Texas Supreme Court has set a June 1st deadline to devise a different tax system and lower school property taxes.