Well, that didn’t take long. The debate season for the Nov. 4 general election lasted just 11 days. Sept. 19 to Sept. 30.
That was the distance between the first debate in the governor’s contest between Republican Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, and Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis.
In between the two gubernatorial debates, sort of, was one on Sept. 29 between the candidates for lieutenant governor – Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick, a radio talk-show host, and his Democratic Senate colleague, Leticia Van de Putte, a pharmacist.
The single debate between the major-party candidates to be the Texas Senate’s presiding officer was all Patrick would agree to. But it did stir Democratic comptroller candidate Mike Collier to use Patrick’s words as a way to criticize his own opponent – Republican state Sen. Glen Hegar.
Patrick’s proposal to save homeowners from a property tax “train wreck” by reducing property taxes in exchange for increasing the sales tax a “penny or two” drew fire from Van de Putte.
“Dan’s policy of increasing the sales tax would be a job killer for our great state of Texas,” she argued.
Collier, who has hammered Hegar for similar advocacy of shifting from property taxes to a higher sales tax, issued a statement calling the proposal “dumb.”
Collier, an accountant, auditor, former chief financial officer for an oil corporation, and consultant for PriceWaterhouseCoopers financial consulting firm, in a statement slammed Patrick’s “fabulous sounding scheme: don’t let property taxes grow any faster than population and inflation. Then raise the sales tax ‘just a penny or two’ to make up the difference.”
Among the problems, Collier said, is that “the state doesn’t collect property tax. Local governments do, to fund their operations.” The state’s only involvement should be to make sure property values are set properly, and that the appeals process works okay.
Patrick’s proposal would hamstring local governmental decision-making and ability to support governmental services, Collier said.
“The tax rates which produce the revenues for local governments are set by the citizens we elect locally and who sit on our boards,” Collier said. “So when Dan Patrick tells us he’s going to set our rates for us, he’s taking away our local control.
Dan’s idea doesn’t look so good,” Collier said, “unless of course you want Dan Patrick making the important decisions for your school or city or county.”
Another problem, Collier said is while “just a penny or two” doesn’t sound like much, it’s actually a pretty significant jump. The state collects sales tax of 6.25 cents per dollar. Two cents on top of that would amount to a 32 percent increase.
“As an outsider, looking objectively at state finance, Mr. Patrick’s proposal looks to be a really, really dumb idea,” Collier said. “Dan Patrick makes a really dumb idea sound slick, but that’s his specialty.” Collier said Texas should follow Van de Putte’s advice from the debate and “fix the appraisal and appeal process at the state level, and then let local governments run their own operation.
“State leaders should spend their time getting our state’s house in order, by fixing our revenue forecasting and making the much needed investments in schools, roads and water, without raising state taxes,” Collier said.
“To do that, we need a real financial executive as Comptroller,” Collier said. “I have to wonder whether my opponent, Mr. Hegar, considers it his job to form an independent point of view on matters such as this, and whether he has the know-how and the independence of mind to tell Dan Patrick that he’s full of hooey.”
This Just In . . . . Hegar had refused to debate at all – until Tuesday, Oct. 7, when apparently Collier’s continued challenge must have made him nervous about being seen as hiding out from voters.
Hegar and Collier will debate Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. The debate is hosted by Time Warner Cable, which will be broadcast to the Austin, San Antonio, Waco, Killeen, San Marcos and the Hill Country media markets.
Hegar had not been eager to go toe-to-toe with Collier, who says Texas needs a comptroller – the state’s tax collector and accountant — who knows how to crunch the numbers, and come up with good revenue estimates to guide legislators on state spending.
Collier has been critical of the current comptroller, Republican Susan Combs, for inaccurate revenue estimates of a shortfall that led the Legislature to cut $5.4 billion from state education funding in 2011, costing 11,000 teachers their jobs. Turned out there was no shortfall.
Combs has endorsed Hegar, a lawyer from a several generation agricultural family, who Collier says is just another politician on the make without the numbers background to be a good bean-counting fiscal watchdog.• • •
Incumbent’s Debate Challenge to Opponent . . . . In a departure from the usual pattern, Democratic U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, seeking re-election in his sprawling and Republican leaning West Texas district, has challenged Republican challenger Will Hurd to debate.
Hurd, who’s getting plenty of help from outside interests financing ads critical of Gallego, says no.
DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@ gmail or (512)458 2963.