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Austin-area leaders discuss school finance fixes ahead of 2019 legislative session

The 2019 legislative session starts next month. (CBS Austin)

With about one month until the 2019 legislative session, city, county, and state elected officials met to discuss how to fix Texas' most pressing issues.

Leaders discussed soaring property taxes and the broken school finance system.

"As your school district taxes go up, the state is reducing the amount it's putting in," said Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. "So even though your tax bill went up, the money to your school district went down. That is a mind-blowing reality for folks not just in the city of Austin but all of these school districts."

City and state leaders painted a grim picture Wednesday of what the future of Austin-area schools might look like if lawmakers don't fix the school finance system.

"We will lose teachers because we can't pay them what they deserve and need," said President of the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees, Geronimo Rodriguez. "We will potentially have bigger class sizes...and we may potentially close schools."

Rodriguez said the district will be writing a check to the state this year for $673 million. Those tax dollars from Austinites will be divvied out to other school districts across the state.

"The more we wait, the more dire it's going to get for our schools," said Alison Alter, Austin City Council Member.

Meanwhile, property taxes continue to rise, often taxing people out of their homes.

"Over 70 percent of (rising property taxes) is because of the school finance system," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

Adler said the increases over the last 5 to 6 years is a result of the increase in property taxes that the state requires school districts to charge. Which is why, according to Adler, school finance fixes must come before property tax reform.

"My district is full of folks who left Austin because they couldn't afford to live here anymore, and then are finding they can't afford to live 30 minutes out of Austin either," said State Representative-Elect Erin Zwiener. "It's a crisis."

Zwiener said the state needs to pay its fair share, rather than relying on more property taxes from cities. She said the state is projected to foot just 35 percent of the bill for public education.

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty believes the problems must be fixed at the state level. He said it will take both parties coming together.

"I'm upset as a Republican," said Daugherty. "I don't think that its fair, and I think fairness is what we are looking for."

Zwiener is a newcomer to the Texas Capitol, but is hopeful 2019 is the year to make meaningful change happen.

"I'm confident we will be able to do that in the House," said Zwiener. "The question is, can we get something that is acceptable to the Senate and the Governor "

Another big discussion Wednesday was about tax revenue caps on cities. City of Austin leaders believe those caps produce minor savings but have major impacts.

In a presentation, leader claimed that if a 2.5 percent cap had been in place for the last 5 years, it would be the equivalent of losing funding for more than 900 police officers.

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