GIVE RICK PERRY SOME CREDIT. After two regular sessions and three special sessions of nothing but futility and failure on school finance and with the state facing a June 1 deadline to rectify a school-funding method that the Texas Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional, he finally figured out the solution: If you have to raise taxes, ask a Democrat.
That Democrat, of course, was John Sharp, his onetime Aggie buddy and, more recently, a bitter political opponent of both his and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst’s. The story of how Sharp and Perry encountered each other at a skeet range east of Austin in July 2005 has been widely told around the Capitol. Once it was clear that neither was going to open fire on the other, they patched up their friendship, and Perry subsequently appointed Sharp, who served as state comptroller between 1991 and 1999 and knows the tax structure inside and out, to head his Texas Tax Reform Commission. Sharp’s charge was to develop a plan to reduce school property taxes by finding other sources of revenue. That mission accomplished, he now finds himself in the strange position of lobbying to save the career of the man who ruined his.
Make no mistake: The special session that began April 17 is the last train for the GOP leadership and legislative majority to board if they want to prove themselves capable of governing the state. If the session fails and if the unthinkable comes to pass—a shutdown of the public schools come June 1—all hell will break loose. You would think that responsible politicians would never let the situation come to this.
I interviewed Sharp at an Austin restaurant a few days before the start of the special session, in between two briefings at the Capitol. He was in great spirits, clearly pleased not just that he’s back in the game but that his proposed solution to the problem—a reformed business tax—had survived its incubation period without major opposition. “[Bob] Bullock used to say, ‘If a