By: Glenn Evans
The Democrat hoping to unseat incumbent Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is banking on a large teacher turnout Nov. 6 so he can lead a charge to adequately fund public schools when lawmakers convene in January 2019.
“What we have to do is bring more money into public education, in total, and not raise property taxes and not raise small business taxes,” Mike Collier said recently, estimating a $5 billion annual infusion if the 86th Legislature removes a property appraisal loophole called the Equal and Uniform Law.
Enacted in 1997, the law lets industrial and commercial property owners fight property appraisals based on the values assigned to similar properties.
It also has created a loophole that critics say shifts the tax burden from those property owners onto other taxpayers, including homeowners. The Legislative Budget Board recommended closing the loophole in 2016, but Collier said a bill to do that died in committee in 2017.
“That’s the only commitment I can make in the first term as lieutenant governor,” Collier said. “Because it’s well-documented, it’s a large number and it’s not raising taxes. It’s simply enforcing existing (market value appraisal) law.”
The Democrat said he has been encouraged on the campaign trail by Republicans whispering to him that he has their votes over Patrick.
“He’s ruled the Senate with an iron fist and taken the Texas Senate to a place Texans didn’t want,” he said, citing Patrick’s passion for the so-called bathroom bill. “And he’s going to be the first Republican in 25 years to lose — and he won’t be the only one.”
The 2019 legislative session will be the last one before lawmakers have to redraw political boundaries for their own seats as well as for Texas’ congressional seats in 2021. Collier hopes to lead the Senate next year in passing a constitutional amendment establishing a redistricting committee that will redraw those lines and hopefully avoid the years of courtroom battles that seem inevitable when lawmakers draw their own boundaries.
“We need a redistricting committee,” he said. “Other states have done it. Texans want that in the worst way.”
Elimination of gerrymandering, closing the appraisal loophole and funding public schools are three of five issues Collier said he hopes to tackle in Austin.
The other two are health care related.
Expanding Medicaid, an option under the Affordable Care Act the Republican-controlled Legislature has refused to accept, would bring billions in federal tax money back to Texas without requiring a state match, he said.
And Collier advocated writing a state law to prevent insurers from charging more to cover pre-existing medical conditions. That element of the Affordable Care Act is being challenged in court by a host of state attorneys general led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Patrick ally.
“If they are effective, and if there isn’t a state law to replace it, then 4.5 million Texans will be without health care overnight, according to the Kaiser Foundation,” Collier said, citing the nonprofit national health issues advocacy group. “And it’s a very big part of my campaign.”
In addition to controlling the flow of legislation through the upper chamber of the Legislature, the lieutenant governor decides who sits on and leads which committees. Collier said he will select committee chairmen and chairwomen who will best help him achieve his five goals.
“I’d like to be lieutenant governor for eight years,” he said. “There’s only one candidate that I know of that is campaigning on the evils of deficit and debt. And that’s me.”