Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made a brief campaign stop at Abilene Aero on Tuesday, where he spoke about a number of issues he feels Texans — and specifically, Texas Republicans — care to address.
In a roughly 40-minute stop — including time he spent sitting in the plane while his team assembled a podium and backdrop inside the private terminal — Patrick spoke with the media about job growth, his goal of granting every teacher a $10,000 raise and purchasing metal detectors for Santa Fe High School.
While Patrick touted the raise idea, he didn’t go into detail about how Texas would pay for such spending. It’s estimated the raises, if done across the board, would cost more than $3 billion.
And, sadly, none of the four questions asked by reporters during a limited Q&A period requested elaboration.
When I was able to speak up, I chose, instead, to ask him about the metal detectors, a slightly less expensive proposal he said the state leaves open to school districts to decide.
But he’s not interested in donating to each of Texas’s other 1,030 public school districts and 600 charter schools. And no one is expecting such an expensive move, either.
“One of the reasons my wife and I stepped up … was I was concerned,” Patrick said. “We were in June and there was no action on it yet and there was a school board meeting that I saw and the parents were unhappy there was no action being taken. And I didn’t want money to be a factor, so I said we’d pay for them.”
They’re not expensive, Patrick said, at $2,000 to $4,000 each. The state could set up a matching program “easily,” he said, or fund much of the expense for the schools which choose to use metal detectors.
Locally, there’s not much of a push for metal detectors — a topic I spoke at length about with Wylie ISD Assistant Superintendent Craig Bessent, who sat on a governor’s panel about school safety and who doesn’t support metal detectors at all in West Texas.
Bessent is a strong supporter of the marshal program, as is Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge. Both Wylie and Abilene school districts have armed marshals in schools.
So, in the interest of fairness, I gave Patrick’s challenger, Mike Collier, roughly the same amount of time that Patrick spent in Abilene.
Collier, a Houston-based certified public accountant, was previously in Abilene in early August, part of a five-candidate public forum at the Paramount Theatre featuring senate candidate Beto O’Rourke.
Over the phone Friday, Collier called out Patrick’s record.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Collier said. “(Patrick’s) clear record is that he cut funding for education and his clear record is raising property taxes.”
How much increase? Collier said the Legislature, with Patrick at the head of the Senate, saw property taxes increase 4 percent, 6 percent, 7 percent and 7 percent these last four years.
But the state has tried to hide this, he said.
Meanwhile, education funding has dropped as the senate flexes its muscles and pushes for school choice for charters — a topic that has limited value in rural Texas where traditional public schools are, for the most part, the only option — and public funding for private schools.
As for school safety, Collier, a former Republican who switched parties in 2013 after a falling out with party leadership, is in favor of pushing for what he calls common sense gun legislation. And he said he thinks Texans are ready for them, too.
He’s a gun owner. He supports the second amendment. He’s also in favor of background checks and red flag laws, which would identify individuals with a history of mental disorders and prohibit them from purchasing firearms.
“I was disappointed (in the governor’s roundtable discussions) in some respects,” Collier said. “We need red flag laws. But when they were talked about, Dan Patrick almost immediately turned around and said ‘No.’ That’s not the right answer. Texans are not happy about that.”
Funding education and matters like school safety are a much larger topic. And Collier said his approach would see him push for tax reform rather than simply promising a tax decrease.
The state, he said, has spent the last decade pushing a narrative that it’s broke. In 2011, legislators massively cut its share of education spending, forcing districts to raise the money themselves in order to maintain programs — or let the programs fade.
Collier wants to get some of that state funding back to schools so property taxes can actually start to go down, and he’ll do it, among other ways, by pushing for the Legislature to close a property tax loophole that allows big corporations to fight assessments.
The “equal and uniform” property tax clause, originally passed in 1997 as part of the state’s tax code, is one of his primary targets. Estimated to cost Texas about $5 billion annually to maintain, Collier said, it’s a good protection for homeowners and small businesses, but it also allows large corporations to take assessors to court.
“It’s worded haphazardly,” Collier said. “The large companies took advantage of it. (The law) allows them to hire attorneys every year to sue the appraisal districts, and the appraisal districts can’t beat them.”
It’s no secret this loophole exists, after a study under former Gov. Rick Perry’s administration identified it, Collier said. Solutions are proposed each legislative session, but they die before they ever gain political momentum.
There are two other financial matters he said need to be cleared up — a frozen gas tax that he’d like to see increased to help recoup $4 billion annually and the 2006 business margin tax now costing $6 billion — that would recoup about $10 billion annually in addition to the property tax loophole closure.
Collier said he’s looking at shortfalls in other, education-related sections of the budget, as well. The Teacher Retirement System, which provides health insurance and pensions to current and retired educators, is possibly more than $1 billion short throughout all of its funds, he said.
And he’s upset about the way Patrick is talking about these issues, claiming the lieutenant governor’s not being honest.
“And you absolutely cannot punch your way out of this paper bag if you’re not being honest about what is happening,” Collier said.