Mike Collier, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, told a McLennan County Democratic Party meeting Saturday he believes there is a way to bring in billions of dollars for Texas public education without increasing property taxes for most Texans.

Collier, citing his background as a former accountant for Exxon and the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, said closing a tax loophole could bring in more than $4 billion for public education.

That loophole, a clause in state tax law meant to require “equal and uniform” appraisals, has instead been exploited by large corporations with sufficient legal resources to sue county and local tax districts regularly, if not annually, if their property is not valued as low as other similar properties.

The result has been a loss in taxable valuation when higher-value properties or buildings are treated as equal to older facilities or those located in less-desirable areas, Collier said.

Changing that law could bring in more money for the state to apply to public education and ease pressure on local property taxes, which Collier said are bearing the brunt of continued cutbacks in the state’s proportion of education funding.

The candidate suggested several changes: altering the law’s wording so that comparable value would take age, use and location into consideration; requiring open disclosure of property sale prices; and changing the legal fee structure to discourage large companies filing valuation challenges on an annual basis.

Speaking to about 30 people at the Waco-McLennan County Library, the self-professed “numbers person” ran through a charts-heavy slideshow that he said shows how a Republican-led statehouse has shrunk support for public education funding, with per-student funding remaining roughly flat since 2010 while property taxes have increased.

He brought his message closer to home, pulling out a hand-written note with Waco ISD statistics and telling his audience that while Waco ISD student spending has gone up 13.7 percent since 2010, property taxes have increased 33.4 percent.

“Don’t get angry with your school district. It’s the state’s fault,” he said.

School vouchers, pushed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick at the last legislative session as a strategy for educational improvement, are not a serious solution, Collier said.

He showed a state map indicating the majority of Texas counties have fewer than five private schools. Another illustration compared 5.4 million Texas school students to an estimated 100,000 student openings in Texas private schools.

“There’s zero linkage between vouchers and choice. … As lieutenant governor, we’re not going to talk about vouchers again,” he said.

Improving public education is not about raising property taxes, but making the existing system work equitably and not for the benefit of the largest corporations operating in the state, he said.

“Property taxes and public education — You can’t talk about one without the other,” said Collier, who ran for state comptroller in 2014 and lost to Republican Glenn Hegar.

He said that race taught him the need to inform voters what Texas Democrats are for, hence the talk on property taxes and public education. Collier will face sales manager Michael Cooper in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.

In a question-and-answer period after his talk, Collier was asked how he intends to convince a Republican Senate if elected. It’s a question of leadership, he said.

“There are state senators who are more moderate than they’re allowed to be,” Collier said.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor

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