COMMERCE - In what is certain to be a hot issue during the 2013 Texas legislative session, school finance was at the forefront of Tuesday evening’s debate between District 2 State Rep. Dan Flynn and challenger George Alexander.
Flynn, the longtime lawmaker from Van, touted his ten years in Austin and repeated throughout the night how Texas does not have a revenue problem but a spending problem.
“We have a little over 1,200 people a day that have moved into Texas,” Flynn said. “Texas is the envy of other places in the United States. I think it’s because we have good strong conservative leadership. I think we have met the needs; we haven’t been able to fill all the wants, but Texas still remains that place where people want to live, come and do business.’
But Alexander, a Greenville attorney, insisted Flynn is part of the spending problem, noting that since the incumbent has been in office state spending has increased 52 percent, or $60 billion, while the population has only increased 20 percent during that time.
“The State of Texas is in the bottom half of how much we spend on students and how much we spend on schools. And it’s not, in my opinion, a matter of spending more in our budget it’s a matter of equitably distributing the income to the individual schools. And the schools in this district, the rural schools, are the ones that have suffered over the last ten years over Mr. Flynn’s tenure,” noted Alexander.
When asked if they’d be in favor of abolishing property taxes and instead collecting more revenue through sales taxes to help schools, as suggested during testimony last week to the Texas House Ways and Means Committee, the two republican candidates had opposing views.
Flynn indicated two sessions back he advocated eliminating property tax and going to a consumption tax.
He said, “I still think that that’s a good way. I would never support it unless we did away with property tax. Now we’re talking about for school funding. We’re not talking about a tax that will be available for cities and for counties because they have difficulty raising money. We’ve got mayors and county judges out here that will be the first to tell you ‘we need more money.’”
But Alexander cautioned, “We’re going down a slippery slope towards a state income tax in my opinion if we’re not real careful... before I’d support it I’d have to be absolutely convinced that we are not leading to a state income tax. People move to Texas because we don’t have a state income tax.”
In an effort to better train high school students, Flynn said he would “absolutely” support legislation for technical and/or vocational training in schools, noting that a 2011 bill he introduced would have allowed school districts to retain more money and teachers for said training by eliminating standardized tests and its associated costs.
But Alexander disagrees that Flynn has advocated “whatsoever” for the schools of District 2.
“He supported the bill in 2006 that created the targeted revenue system that our rural schools are under and are underfunded per student,” Alexander said.
Candidates also addressed questions regarding higher education and recent increases in tuition at area schools, including Texas A&M University-Commerce and Paris Junior College, both with campuses in District 2. While the two schools have seen considerable growth over the past few years, notably A&M-Commerce achieving an enrollment of more than 11,000 in 2011, officials say due to limitations in state funding tuition costs must go up.
Mr. Alexander says he struggles with the idea of allowing non-elected officials at each college dictate the costs to students, noting that was once the responsibility of the state, and wants better management of state funds concerning higher education.
Rep. Flynn expressed concern over the lack of high school graduates not attending college and that “The governor has a plan, one that I would be happy to work with him on, that is to bring down college tuition.
The two candidates also spent time answering questions on immigration, healthcare, the rainy day fund, transportation and faith.
The Texas primary election is May 29. Early voting runs from Monday, May 14 to Friday, May 25.
Tuesday’s debate was co-sponsored by the Hunt County African American Leadership Conference and the Texas A&M University-Commerce Colony of Phi Iota Alpha.
Hear the full debate above, as moderated by Noah Nelson, distinguished visiting professor at A&M-Commerce. Media panelists include KSST’s Enola Gay Matthews, newly appointed editor of The East Texan Nick Bailey, Kerry Craig with the Sulphur Springs News-Telegram and KETR News Director Scott Harvey.