SALADO — When the Republican candidates for state comptroller came to the Central Texas Tea Party forum Tuesday night at the Tenroc Ranch in Salado, they all agreed that the property tax process needs to be reformed.
Just how much it needs to
be reformed was open for debate.
State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, former state Rep. Raul Torres and former gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina said they were in favor of completely phasing out property taxes.
Although state Rep. Harvey Hilderbrand, R-Kerrville, was unable to make the event because of personal issues, his campaign manager, Matt Mackowiak, said Hildebrand wasn’t in favor of eliminating property taxes, but he does believe the property tax system is “broken and absolutely needs to be reformed.”
Torres promised the crowd of the Republican faithful that if he is elected he’ll “hit the ground running with specific ideas to reform appraisals until property tax is eliminated completely.”
Hegar reiterated a rhetorical question that pops up frequently in anti-tax groups, “as long as we pay taxes we have to ask, do we really own our property?”
“We have to write a check every year to keep our property,” Hegar said. He added that he supported standardizing property tax appraisal procedures across counties and said “if (property tax) is going to be here, it has to be done right.”
Medina took Torres and Hegar’s comments as both a vindication and a validation of her views.
“In 2009, I was a lone voice in the wilderness,” Medina said. “Saying that if we want freedom and prosperity we have to own our own property.”
Medina also supported standardizing appraisal district operations and aggressively using the comptroller’s office to investigate local appraisal districts.
All of the candidates and Mackowiak said they supported increased school choice, and all of them offered some variation on a school voucher plan.
Hegar reminded the audience that he sponsored legislation to allow high school students to take university-level classes online.
He also offered perhaps one of the most radical ideas to reform school funding allowing homeowners to keep their tax dollars in an account “so they can use them to send their children to another school. They should have that choice.”
Mackowiak said Hilderbrand supports a system “where teachers get merit pay and failing schools get closed.”
“Either your pro-free market and pro-education reforms or you’re not,” he added.
Medina, who homeschooled her two children, said conservatives in Texas “haven’t been successful” in eliminating the strings that come with state funding.
“How about we just take what we need to fund public education and let parents keep the rest,” Medina asked.
Torres framed the problems in Texas’ schools as an economic issue.
“Our dropout rate is an economic issue looming on the horizon,” Torres said. He added that “four out of five” Hispanic students don’t graduate from high school; he offered no source for the statistic.
An August report from the Texas Education Agency, “Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools, 2011-12,” said overall Texas public high schools on-time graduation for the class of 2012 was 87.7 percent. The same report found that students graduated high school at a rate of 84.3 percent.