Candidates battling for the District 16 Texas Senate seat agree on this much: Public school funding and property tax relief are linked.
But that’s about it.
As the Nov. 6 Election Day nears, incumbent Don Huffines and challenger Nathan Johnson are sharply defining their differences in pursuit of the potentially pivotal seat.
Johnson, a Democrat, pledged to restore sensible, results-oriented representation in Austin.
Huffines, a Republican, touted a proven record of forging bipartisan efforts to fight corruption back home and to spend tax revenue wisely.
District 16 is one of three GOP-controlled seats that, if taken by Democrats, could end or at least dilute the Republican supermajority in the Texas Senate, observers have said.
Huffines, concerned about the burden double-digit property valuation increases are creating for taxpayers, said that no Senate Democrats voted for tax relief the last legislative session, and voters can expect the same in 2019.
“That’s never changing because, for Democrats, government never has enough money,” Huffines said.
Huffines said he’d fight for Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan that would place a revenue growth cap of 2.5 percent on increases in property taxes collected by local governments and school districts.
Johnson has called the plan a “bad idea” that would restrict the control of local taxing entities.
“I trust local elected officials, and I trust voters to take care of that at the local level,” he said.
Huffines countered that local control is preserved under the governor’s plan because it would extend the option of going above the cap to pay for special projects, like new fire stations, but only if approved by voters in a local election.
“So, this is the ultimate local control,” Huffines said. “I think my opponent is misleading voters on that.”
Johnson said some of Huffines’ efforts had created more problems.
For example, Johnson noted, Huffines’ push last session to abolish the Dallas County Schools busing service in the wake of a public corruption scandal.
The bussing service ceased operations without a good plan to efficiently get students to school, Johnson said.
“He just likes to blow stuff up and doesn’t spend a lot of time fixing or building anything,” Johnson said of Huffines. “That’s just not effective.”
As for school finance, Huffines said he favors exploring ways to adjust state funding formulas to possibly ease the burden on local taxes, while also being sure teachers get a pay raise.
Johnson said he does not care which party comes up with a solution, only that it’s sensible and free of partisan bickering.
He suggested that local school taxes could be shrunk with an increase in the state’s contribution, but not without some careful thought. He noted that some of the state’s number crunchers are already finding ways to do that.