At a press conference on Monday that was supposed to center on Democrat messaging, one lawmaker let the cat out of the bag that their ultimate aim in pushing for “school finance reform” is a state income tax.
Earlier in the day, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told attendees at a Texas Public Policy Foundation gathering that there is a movement led by House Speaker Joe Straus (R–San Antonio) to use school finance to “bring us towards a state income tax.” That comment prompted a member of the media to ask Democrats at their press conference whether it was true that they and Straus supported an income tax.
“Can we say it publicly?” State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D–Houston) responded, prompting laughs from her colleagues.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jose Rodriguez of El Paso then took the mic and walked the comments back, focusing instead on taking money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund before confirming that, yes, they would be interested in changes to the state’s tax code that would increase revenue. Patrick has notably said that would be the Democrats’ strategy all along, to increase ongoing expenditures and tap the Rainy Day Fund until it is depleted – leaving future legislatures with little choice other than to impose an income tax on citizens to pay for the bloated system.
The rest of the press conference was largely uneventful. The assembled representatives pledged their support for “real solutions” including minimum wage hikes and equal pay mandates. Several senior Democrats who were scheduled to speak, including State Rep. Senfronia Thompson and State Rep. Harold Dutton, both of Houston, were no-shows and were unable to speak on several of their priority bills.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner of Arlington focused his criticism on Lt. Gov. Patrick and Gov. Abbott, arguing that the special session was happening because Patrick “threw a fit” and that Abbott obliged him in calling a special session. There was no mention of Speaker Straus and the failure of House leadership to move must-pass sunset legislation.
While several other issues were mentioned, the primary focus of the press conference appeared to be to echo Straus on marking “school finance” as a priority.
Despite many veiled comments on the subject on social media in recent weeks, none of the Democrats mentioned any plans to attempt to leave the state in order to break a quorum. Likewise, while one senator mentioned his desire to pass sunset legislation and adjourn sine die, a plan floated by liberal journalists close to Straus and junior Democrats, he did not appear serious about that proposal.
It would seem their more senior colleagues, perhaps learning from unsuccessful attempts to scuttle special sessions in the past, are more inclined to resist within the chamber and secure some talking points for the 2018 elections than engage in a high stakes game of political chicken.
While the mainstream media is likely to portray Democrats as leading a resistance against conservative reforms championed by Abbott, Patrick, and the Texas GOP, it is more accurate to say they are in lock-step with Straus and his “school finance reform” agenda.
Then again, that’s pretty much the same thing.