LegislatureTo Begin Special Session April 20

Friday, April 16,2004                                         By Shawn Wade

      Thisweek Texas Governor Rick Perry confirmed what most people had already penciledin their April calendars the start of another special session of the TexasLegislature. It will be the fourth special session called by the governor sincethe end of the 2003 legislative session.

      The30-day session, which begins Tuesday April 20, will focus on the issue ofschool finance. Perry is calling on members of the Texas Legislature to get towork and develop a plan to reform the current education funding system.

      Manyof the principal leaders of the school finance debate, including GovernorPerry, have acknowledged that it will likely take more than a single 30-daysession to fully debate the issues and develop a plan that can be passed intolaw.

      Perryhas already published his ideas to reform the system. His goal is tosimultaneously increase funding to Texas schools by $2.5 Billion in the nextbiennium and also provide significant property tax relief to homeowners andbusinesses, to the tune of about $3.3 Billion over the same two-year period.

     Agriculture groups have expressed lots of mixed feelings about the fundingconcepts that the Governor and others have put forth to date. Temperingenthusiasm for a significant property tax decrease is the potential for adverseimpacts to important agriculture programs and tax benefits.

     Agricultural sales tax exemptions on goods and services, as well as statefranchise taxes on businesses, could be at the top of the reform list as theLegislature attempts to develop a new system.

     Perry's plan, which he put forth as a starting point for the debate, suggestssignificant changes in property taxes, introduces additional "sin"taxes on items like cigarettes, and closes loopholes in franchise and autosales tax rules.

      Perryproposes capping the maximum residential property tax rate at $1.25 per $100 ofvaluation and limiting the amount that a property's appraised value could beincreased from year to year to 3 percent.

     Business owners would see business property tax rates capped at $1.40 per $100of valuation with all business property taxes collected and held by the state.

      Perryalso proposes a constitutionally based dedication of future surplus staterevenues so that residential and business property owners receive proportionalreductions in property tax rates until both reach a minimum of 75 cents per$100 of valuation.

     Agriculture groups are expected to be highly visible during the specialsession. Their goal will be to reiterate the importance of the agricultureindustry to the state's economy and to encourage the continuation of importantprograms beneficial to agriculture.

      Withno clear idea of what direction the Legislature will jump in the reform effort,a constant watch will be necessary to prevent adverse outcomes for theagriculture industry.

     Clearly, efforts to bring agriculture into the debate and calls for everyone todo their fair share will be heard repeatedly over the next few weeks.

     "Everyone in the agriculture industry understands the need to adequatelyfund the public education system in Texas. As an industry our priority is toprotect agriculture and all of rural Texas against changes that would force usto shoulder an unfair share of the education finance load," says PCGExecutive Vice President Steve Verett. "What we learned during the lastLegislative Session is that there are no shortcuts to a solution that is fairand equitable to everyone."

     Verett added that it will take a concerted effort by producer and agricultureindustry groups to educate legislators about why agriculture programs areimportant enough to be retained.

     Considerable effort will also be dedicated to carefully going over each andevery proposal to prevent potentially adverse consequences for agriculture.


NCCSeeking 2004-05 Cotton Leadership


      TheNational Cotton Council is accepting applications for the 2004-05 NCC CottonLeadership Class. Applications will be accepted from qualified U.S. industrymembers through July 1, 2004.

      Thoseinterested in applying can visit the Cotton Leadership Program's web site at http://leadership.cotton.org to review the program curriculum,eligibility requirements and download the application. The site also includes acontact form that allows users to submit questions, request information andschedule a personal visit with local program alumni.

      The10-member leadership class is comprised of four producers and one participantfrom each of the other six industry segments. The NCC's Cotton LeadershipProgram seeks to identify potential industry leaders and provide themdevelopmental training through this class.

     During five sessions of activity across the Cotton Belt, participants visitwith industry leaders and observe production, processing and research. Theymeet with lawmakers and government agency representatives during a visit toWashington, DC, and attend the NCC's annual meeting and its mid-year board ofdirectors meeting.

      Theprogram, now in its 21st year, is supported by a grant to The Cotton Foundationfrom DuPont Crop Protection and is managed by NCC's Member Services department.

      The2004-05 class is to be announced in August by the NCC's Cotton LeadershipDevelopment Committee.