Property taxes, teacher pay, standardized testing, immigration, tax reform, the First Amendment and Lauren’s Law were some of the topics discusses at the recent town hall meeting hosted at Grayson College by Texas Senator Pat Fallon.
Afterwards he took questions from the audience. The topics ranged from medicare, education financing and transgender athletes competing in women’s sports.
Following the event, Fallon answered a few questions about the state of affairs in Texas.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge that is facing the state of Texas right now and what’s your strategy to tackle that?
A: Mass unlawful migration would have to be. Because we have two of the biggest expenditures we have in our budget. Because it’s a limited pie right. Health and human services and K-12 education and higher up. When you add those up, it varies from session to session, but the budget usually you are talking about almost 80 percent is those items. Then, everything else is that small little sliver.
What directly impacts those two when you have mass unlawful migration is your human services costs go up. Your CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and your welfare go up quite a bit and then also K-12 education because again when immigrants come into the country, they’re not going to have it. Most who come here illegally don’t have wealth so usually, almost overwhelmingly, they don’t buy homes. So they are in apartments, which I said during the speech, generates very little property tax income for that apartment unit. But, you still need to educate those children. That’s mandated federally and no one is saying that we don’t. We should. So we’re going to educate them.
There is a cost to that. The allotment just went up. It is $8-10,000 a year to educate that child. Wel,l do the math. If that one apartment unit is generating a couple hundred dollars in property taxes — and the primary way we pay for schools is property taxes — but there are three children K-12 that live there, the cost to educate is $30 grand with almost nothing to pay for it. So the burden is shifted to other people. It puts a stress on the budget. That would be the number one thing.
The second part of your question is how to address it is that we need a federal government with the will to enforce the laws that are on the books. This administration, the Trump administration, has done a much better job than the Obama administration and we as a state have spent $800 million the last three sessions to secure, to better help secure, the border. But, our hands are tied with the immigration. It is not a state crime. Smuggling drugs is, assault battery, those types of crimes, that happen along the border. Because when you have the drug cartels acting as the police, you are going to have crimes being committed. That would be the answer to that question.
Q: I know you said two of the big things, and everyone has been talking about it, the property tax relief that you provided and the teacher pay raises. How do you reconcile those two things: reducing the budget and at the same time increasing teacher pay?
A: Well, we did. Actually the budget grew at seven and a half percent. That was below population growth and inflation.
We were very fortunate this legislative cycle to have $9.5 billion dollars we didn’t anticipate we would have. What we said, what are we going to do with that, we actually drew down the rainy day fund as well because of Harvey and these two issues.
It was about $15 billion. It will be about $10 billion now.
It won’t replenish as much because we dedicated so much of those funds that usually go into the rainy day fund to other issues. Like transportation was one of the items, and there are a few others. So what we did is we spent. Ironically enough, we tied to HB3 because it was $11.6 billion to pass HB3. That was the fiscal note that is on every bill when you vote on it. They let you now how much it is going to cost if it has a financial implication which this one did.
But, we need to invest money in K-12 to get results. We need to retain teachers. That is one of the reasons why teachers pretty much across the board are going to see $4,000 additional. We need to attract them and retain them. And then we need to focus again on the next legislative session to pay our better teachers more to incentivize better performance, and classroom performance and measuring that to make sure. It is one thing. New York state spends twice as much per pupil than we do. We have a higher graduation rate. They are not going to get a better result. And, it is fair to compare New York and Texas because they are a large state and they have ethnic diversity as we do in Texas. New Hampshire is not a fair comparison. A tiny state with a million people…they don’t have the challenges that we do in Texas or a New York or California.
Q: You were talking about the income tax amendment coming up in November. What would you say to people who are trying to decide that issue?
A: Vote for it! Vote to change the Constitution to strip out the language that was inserted into it in 1993.
What it does is it puts the burden on any future attempt on a state income tax. It would need two-thirds of both chambers to vote for an income tax and then get voter approval.
To get two thirds, is not going to happen in our lifetime. That is why it is important. I would encourage everyone to send a clear and unambiguous message to the other 49 states that Texas is committed to limited government, low taxes, reasonable regulation, a business friendly environment.
We want to value prosperity and opportunity over income tax.
Q: Any closing statements you want to make?
A: Yes, it was a great town hall. There was a very good turnout. I think there were some very good questions. We did 21 in the last two weeks. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. At the end of the day, we work for a million people and we need to know them and take all questions. There wasn’t one question I didn’t at least try to answer.