The third time wasn’t the charm. The state’s three top leaders began wrestling with how to fund the public schools in 2003. After two regular sessions of the Legislature and a special session in between, Robin Hood still lives, school finance still relies too heavily on property taxes, and public education still awaits meaningful reform. As surely everyone knows by now, Governor Rick Perry, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, and Speaker Tom Craddick are not exactly best buds. The session’s failure is to a large degree their failure to get along, and that is why they deserve a dishonorable mention.
Perry was AWOL for most of the session. He finally engaged in school finance on the last weekend, moving House and Senate negotiators closer, but he couldn’t close the deal. If he had been willing to address the funding problems of public schools instead of their critics’ concerns, he might have been able to break the logjam.
No one wanted to end the school finance stalemate more than Dewhurst, and no one worked harder to accomplish it. But his top-down management style got in the way. Had he heeded warnings from senators who had misgivings about his idea for a statewide property tax, he might have avoided the near fiasco that forced the Senate to scramble for a tax plan late in the calendar. But the truth is that even had the Senate come out with a plan weeks earlier, Dewhurst would have had a hard time selling it to Craddick.
The Speaker wanted to wait until after the Supreme Court decides (probably this fall) whether the current school finance scheme is constitutional, and he usually gets what he wants, especially when all it takes is intransigence—his special gift. He barely mustered the votes to pass a tax bill that cut property taxes and raised new revenue and is keenly aware he might not be able to do so again—unless lawmakers have to pass a bill to keep the court from closing the schools.
Oh, well. There’s always the fourth time.