Borger's representative in the state senate was in town Monday to talk to the public about various issues.
Kel Seliger, State Senator for District 31, stopped at Borger City Hall. He said the 83rd legislature will convene in January. Committees have already been working, particularly in the areas of finance and public education, because he said there is a tremendous amount of work to be done.
“The first and foremost thing is obviously always the budget,” he said. “We're currently operating a biennial budget of $165 billion and that was actually reduced in real spending by $14 billion over the last biennium, which I think is particularly important.
“The state was in the same recession everyone else in the country was, and certainly people didn't want to be taxed anymore, so we cut spending, cut it most deeply in public education. Depending on whose numbers you look at, [it was] between $4 billion and $5.4 billion, and it's a big cut.”
At that time, there was 4.6 million children in schools, and this number grows by about 60,000 to 70,000 kids each year. The population of the state grows by approximately 400,000 per year, Seliger said.
He said sales tax revenue is up for the last 28 months in a row, most of those months in double digits. He said the monies aren't quite up to 2008 levels, but he is encouraged by what he sees. He did say with the continual rise in population, more than likely there will not be a budget surplus.
Seliger said sales tax is important to the State of Texas and municipalities. Municipalities get almost all of their money from sales tax and property tax. In 2009, property tax appraisals were either flat or decreasing, and sales tax revenues were going down. He said it was a difficult time for everyone.
One of the issues closest to his heart is public education, and Seliger said this is what he spends most his time on while in Austin, sitting on the state committee. The deep cuts are discussed, and he said the problem with funding public education is a structural one.
The formula that is used, which allocates a certain number of dollars per child in school, was implemented in 1993. Since that time, the population has grown, along with enrollment in schools, and the demographic in schools has changed.
“Only about 30 percent of school districts are actually on those formulas. Everything else is a little bit of this, a little bit of that,” Seliger said. “We have a formula system that doesn't really determine how things are funded.”
In 2006, the state went to a target revenue system based on tax collections, and legislators thought the funding system would reflect the economy. Instead, it created a system where some districts and their tax supported fundings greatly varied, with some having $11,000 and some with $4,600. Seliger said this was inexplicable.
“You can't really justify that. It's just the way it worked out,” he said. “We need to get rid of it. We have a graduated system now to get rid of it by 2017. In my opinion, that's not soon enough, but it's going to be very money-driven. We can cure the inequities with large amounts of cash, but the cash is not going to be there when it needs to be put into the formulas.”
Equity is important, because Seliger said more money shouldn't be put into the education of one child over another. He said it makes no sense, but it is part of the challenge the State has, and he isn't sure how those issues will be resolved. Hearings have begun in committee, and the equity discussion will be discussed at length.