Texas lawmakers were happy and relieved last month after approving difficult-to-pass education and property tax legislation, but they’re going to have to work to convince Texas voters to uncork the Champagne, given the results of the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
Gov. Greg Abbott called it “a monumental moment in public education history in the state of Texas” last week when he signed a bill implementing a massive overhaul of the state’s school finance system, one that includes about $6.5 billion in new public education spending and about $5.1 billion devoted to lowering Texans’ property tax bills. Lawmakers also approved a measure this year designed to slow the future growth of Texans’ property tax bills.
Despite those achievements, voter reaction to the legislative session after it ended last month was positive but not overwhelming. Only about half of the state’s registered voters (49%) said they followed the session “extremely” or “somewhat” closely, and only 30% said they approve of how state leaders and the Legislature are handling public education; 29% said they disapprove.
The majority of those leaders are Republicans, and their voters are a little happier than the average. But even among Republican voters, 38% approve of lawmakers’ moves on public education and 20% disapprove; that’s almost a 2-to-1 margin, but not a majority. Democrats were less pleased: 23% approve and 38% disapprove. Independent voters are with the Democrats on this question: 24% approving, 38% disapproving. In each of those cases — among all voters, Democrats, Republicans and independents — about 2 voters in 5 expressed neither a positive nor a negative opinion.
Voters’ grades for state officials’ work on property taxes were tougher: 26% approve and 37% do not. Among Republicans, more approve (38%) than disapprove (33%). Among Democrats, approvals were swamped by disapprovals, 17% to 41%, and among independent voters, 10% approve of the property tax work and 41% disapprove.
“My sense of this is that the spending on schools was a much clearer winner politically than was the action taken on property taxes,” said James Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-directs the poll. “Nobody’s looking at what the Legislature did on property taxes and K-12 [education] and handing out awards.”
“The property tax thing is really interesting. To the extent that there were a lot of Republican leaders who were constantly trying to lower expectations about what the property tax legislation would do, they succeeded,” Henson said. “There’s a bipartisan expectation that property taxes are not going to go down. You achieved bipartisanship.”
Voters said they agree with some of what the Legislature did; 71% support requiring voter approval before local governments raise property tax revenues more than a set amount. New laws will require votes when city or county governments increase those tax revenues more than 3.5% and when local school districts cross the 2.5% line. And the support crosses party lines: Democrats (59%) support it, along with Republicans (83%) and independents (64%).
Those same voters, however, said the state spends too little on public education, that property taxes are too high and that they don’t really expect their property taxes to drop.
More than half (53%) said Texas spends too little on primary and secondary education, an opinion held by a majority of Democrats (72%) and pluralities of Republican (36%) and independent (49%) voters. Only 11% of voters say the state spends too much on education; 23% of all voters say education spending is about right.
For what is spent, Texas is getting “good” schools, according to 41% of voters (and 52% of Republicans), and “not very good” schools, according to 31% (including 38% of Democrats). Smaller numbers said the schools are “excellent” (7%) or “terrible” (10%).
Property taxes remain unpopular in Texas: 60% of voters say they are too high, a majority that holds up across party lines. Just 7% say those taxes are too low, and 18% say the amount Texans pay in property tax is about right.
And after a legislative session in which lawmakers tried to leash future increases and spent more than $5 billion on lowering school property taxes, few voters (9%) expect relief in the form of falling taxes. The rest expect property taxes to increase (36%) or stay the same (27%), or said they don’t know what will happen (28%).
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from May 31-June 9 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.
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