When State House District 126 northwest Harris County in the Texas House became an open seat, Sam Harless decided to make a run for it. After all, it was previously represented by his wife Patricia. And while candidate Harless says he will fight for lower taxes and equitably funded schools, there is good reason to be skeptical.
Lawmakers in Austin like Patricia Harless created and have sustained a public school funding system increasingly reliant on local property taxpayers. They voted to cut corporate taxes – the state’s share of education funding goes down, and they pass the buck to local governments. The Texas Tribune reported on September 12th “the Texas Education Agency projected a drop in the state’s general revenue for public education by more than $3.5 billion over the next couple of years, in part because the revenue from local property taxes is expected to skyrocket.” Can Harris County taxpayers really expect anything to change?
District 126 residents need only look at the balance sheets of two local school districts — Klein ISD and Cypress-Fairbanks ISD — which together are home to more than 90 percent of the district’s constituents to confirm what they already know is true. They are paying more in taxes and getting less from the state.
In 2015, Klein ISD received $212.3 million in state funding, while local taxpayers paid $184.1 million. By 2017, state funding decreased to $199.1 million, while local taxpayers’ share increased to $210.9 million. The state’s share dropped by seven percent while the local share went up 15 percent in just three years.
The situation is even worse in Cy-Fair ISD. In 2015, CFISD received $412.9 million in state funding, while local taxpayers paid $455.6 million. By 2017, state funding decreased to $357.5 million, while local taxpayers’ share ballooned to $536.5 million. The state’s share dropped by 14 percent while the local share went up 18 percent in just three years.
Meanwhile, Klein ISD used one-time fixes to narrowly avoid layoffs in its latest budget and expects to make future cuts, while Cy-Fair ISD navigated a $40 million shortfall in its recently passed budget. As property taxes rise, state funding declines and the districts send millions each year back to the state to fund the “Robin Hood” school finance system. This situation is not sustainable.
Establishment politicians want us to believe – a few weeks before the election – they are finally concerned about skyrocketing local property taxes. We know the truth – it’s the politicians in Austin who are directly responsible for this problem – because they favor their big, corporate special interest donors, and pass the state’s revenue shortfalls on to local school districts.
We can’t be fooled by more politics as usual. Taxpayers across Texas are paying more in taxes and getting less. What will Sam Harless do to change it? If we are to fix our state and get the transparency and tax fairness we deserve, we must demand candidates stand up to their corporate donors and help us Reform Austin.