By Star Telegram Editorial Board Endorsements - Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Wed, Oct. 01, 2008 October 01, 2008
Bill Zedler has had enough time and opportunity to shine as a Texas legislator. He hasn’t.
It’s time for a change in Texas House District 96, which stretches south of Interstate 20 from southwest Arlington to Crowley. Republican Bill Zedler has represented the district since 2003, and frankly he’s had time to be a better legislator than he is.
Zedler, 65, touts his membership in the Texas Conservative Coalition as a badge of honor, often using the collective “we” when speaking of the group’s 40-plus House members and their accomplishments in “free enterprise, limited government, limited taxes and family values.”
As slogans, those terms sound good, but in practice some of the legislation pushed by the coalition and its members has been downright bad. We’d rather have seen more evidence that the District 96 representative could think and act independently rather than simply support group causes.
In the coming session, Zedler says he wants to push more of the coalition’s goals.
He wants to require all local police departments to check the immigration status of people in their custody, without fully explaining how the state would have the authority to impose such a requirement or enforce it. He wants to train employers on how to recognize illegal immigrants and to require them to take steps to avoid being duped by fake documents used to gain employment. Putting the state in the role of chief immigration enforcer would be a legal and financial mistake.
Zedler joins the Conservative Coalition crowd in decrying the property tax appraisal system. He wants appraisers to have a freer hand to set property values lower than full market value. Doing so would result in an uneven and unfair tax system.
Opposing Zedler is Democrat Chris Turner, 35, of Burleson. Turner is young and untested, but he is smart and driven by a desire to improve the lives of the residents of District 96 and the rest of the state.
Turner looks at the Oct. 4 school property tax election and the $8.1 million in budget cuts at the Arlington school district this year and sees a common theme: The school funding plan adopted by the Legislature in 2006 has left local districts unable to meet increased costs without raising taxes or dangerously drawing down reserves.
He advocates construction of a North Texas regional commuter rail system. He recognizes funding such a system could be difficult, but the region and its 6.5 million residents are headed for traffic gridlock without it.
He also is focused on the need for transportation innovations and other measures to improve North Texas air quality.
Turner favors measures to enhance funding opportunities for The University of Texas at Arlington and other state higher education institutions.
The Star-Telegram recommends Chris Turner for state representative in District 96.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram
KENNEDY: Texas, taxes and schools
By BUD KENNEDY - Fort Worth Star Telegram - Oct. 10, 2008
Four weeks before Election Day in a campaign that is not going his party’s direction for now, you would think that Arlington Republican Bill Zedler would avoid picking a fight.
He just picked one — aiming at, of all people, public school leaders, including those in his districts of Arlington, Crowley, Kennedale and Mansfield.
Zedler is among conservatives behind a new "Pledge With Texans." It’s published by the Texas Conservative Coalition ( www.txcc.org) as sort of a state Contract with America, a to-do list for the next Texas Legislature.
Pledge No. 1: "Cut property taxes until they are eliminated" — and one tax in particular.
"Elimination of school district property taxes must be the long-term goal," the pledge reads.
We don’t have an income tax in Texas. Basically, we have two ways to pay for children’s education: property taxes and sales taxes.
"Certainly, we could look at that as an option," he said Thursday, saying lawmakers could "eliminate property tax and replace it with a sales tax."
It’s the only option. Unless he’s got a few billion stashed in a piggybank somewhere.
How much would the Texas Legislature have to raise the sales tax to pay for Texas schools?
"It would have to be an astronomically high sales tax," said Steve Brown, Arlington associate superintendent of finance.
The Arlington school district alone — one of the state’s most thrifty — needs $200 million a year in property taxes to teach kids.
By the time the state of Texas replaced that money, it would take an extra quarter-cent in sales tax statewide to cover the bill. And that’s just for Arlington.
When Weatherford Republican state Rep. Phil King suggested a school sales tax last year, Texas Monthly said the idea was a "scheme . . . to hurt the schools." The idea is a political gesture designed to shift control to Austin and stir up opposition to tax increases, the magazine’s Paul Burka wrote.
Crowley Superintendent Greg Gibson just got turned down by his own voters for a tax increase.
Imagine if every school in the state had to ask Austin for money to raise teacher salaries or pay higher electric bills.
"It’s pretty frustrating to me to hear about proposals like this when the state is funding schools so poorly," Gibson said. "It’s all rhetoric. The money’s not there."
Zedler, a three-term lawmaker, is the vice chairman of the Texas House Education Committee.
He has always returned calls. This was no exception.
"If you can reduce the property tax, then Texans will have more money to spend," he said. "That’ll be good for the economy. And it’ll also generate more sales tax."
The Conservative Coalition is hosting town halls to promote the Pledge With Texans.
Zedler will host a meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at Moore Elementary in Arlington.
"If you want to see what keeps people out of homes, a lot of it is the property tax," he said. He wants school districts to "do more with less," he said.
King, the originator, said he might agree to exempt low-income Texans from the sales tax. (A sales tax is often criticized because it’s like an income or property tax in reverse: The poorest Texans pay the highest percentage of their income.)
Zedler’s opponent, Burleson Democrat Chris Turner, said a school sales tax would be "a dangerous path." It wouldn’t produce enough money in the event of a sales recession, he said.
"It’s a horrible idea," he said.
Right or wrong, this is a horrible time to be talking about taxes.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram