Democratic lieutenant governor hopeful Mike Collier talks school funding and property taxes

Collier says he can win the statewide election for lieutenant governor in November.

The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Texas, Mike Collier, sat down Thursday with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith to talk about what it would look like to have a Democrat presiding over a Republican-majority state Senate.

One of Collier’s priorities is education. “Property taxes are unfair, too high and aren’t producing the revenues that we need to address public education,” Collier said.

But his proposals to cap the the number of students per classroom at 22, hire more special education teachers and expand access to prekindergarten don’t come cheap. So where will the money come from? In short, it’s complicated.

While homeowners generally pay property taxes according to the fair market value, some companies are able to pay less than the fair market value. Collier considers this a loophole and he says this leads to the loss of billions of dollars in state revenue. “If you own a refinery, or a petrochemical complex, or a downtown skyscraper, despite the fact that the (Texas) constitution compels it to be valued at market value, it is not valued at market,” Collier said.

Collier said that eliminating the “loophole” does not amount to raising taxes for big companies. “It’s unlawful what they are doing and all that I’m suggesting is that we are enforcing the law,” Collier said.

Other changes in law have affected Texas’ ability to properly fund schools, according to Collier. Those changes include the freezing of the gas tax at 20 cents per gallon in 1991 and the replacement of the franchise tax in 2006. That represents an annual loss of billions of dollars from the state’s coffers, according to Collier. He didn’t specify how he would recuperate that money.

“The state can’t make ends meet, and the only place they can turn is homeowner property taxes and they can do it because values go up and they launder that money through school funding,” Collier said. “We cannot resolve these problems until we resolve those decisions.”

To achieve his goals, Collier needs to win the statewide election for lieutenant governor in November.

The key to a Democrat winning statewide in Texas, according to Collier, is not to wait for a rock star to carry the party through the midterm elections. “We have to remind people that we have a point of view on economic matters, kitchen table issues, and we need down-ballot candidates because this is a huge state,” Collier said.