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Property tax hikes and school funding needs go head-to-head Wednesday

Public education advocates are speaking out against a proposed cap on property tax increases. Wednesday a public hearing on SB 2 is expected to draw several school district leaders to the Texas State Capitol. People opposing the bill say it would cripple the public education system. (CBS Austin)

Public education advocates are speaking out against a proposed cap on property tax increases. Wednesday a public hearing on SB 2 is expected to draw several school district leaders to the Texas State Capitol. People opposing the bill say it would cripple the public education system.

The legislation would mainly impact larger cities and school districts collecting more than $15 milling in property and sales tax every year. The bill would cap the property tax rate at 2.5 percent. A higher rate would require voter approval in an election. Currently, taxing entities can raise the tax rate to 8 percent without needing an election. The bill's authors say people being taxed out of their homes are ready for property tax relief like SB 2.

"It ensures that we are going to have control and taxpayers will have control over the rate of increase in property taxes," says one of the bill's authors, authors Representative Dustin Burrows.

At a press conference announcing the bill, co-author Senator Paul Bettencourt said, "Gentrification is a new word that everyone understands in Travis County, Bexar County, Harris County, Dallas County, Tarrant County, you name it." He added, "This bill is a major step to stop that problem."

School districts collect millions of dollars in property taxes every year but they don't get to spend all of the money collected. A significant percentage of their collected property taxes goes directly to the state which then redistributes the funds back to districts based on their perceived need.

Over the past decade the amount of money the state contributes to fund public education has steadily declined. In 2008 Texas contributed about 50 percent of the public education budget. In 2019 the state is on track to contribute about 38 percent of the education budget. School districts say they're forced to raise property taxes to make up for the money the state is no longer giving. Education advocates say it's time to make funding public schools a priority.

"This state has bragged about its unemployment. It brags about its revenue. It brags about being stronger than most countries in the world. It's time they start putting that strength and their bragging rights into public education instead of talking about how good they are, they need to show us how good they are and how much they genuinely care about our kids," says Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the employee's union for Austin ISD.

"The union clearly sees-- on a regular basis-- that people are underpaid teachers, custodians, transportation. Everybody in education is underpaid so this puts a huge stress on Austin [ISD] that's already spending half of its tax dollars going out to the state rather can keeping it here locally," he adds.

The hearing is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Wednesday, February 6 before the Senate Committee on Property Tax in room E1.012 of the Texas State Capitol.

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