Mike Collier knows that there are people that care deeply about whether Texas stays red, turns blue, or goes purple — but it’s not his chief goal.
“My aspiration is political competition,” he said on a drive from Houston to Dallas last week. “I just want to see the end of this one-party system.”
Collier filed today to run as a Democrat against incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and said he knows that running for a statewide seat as anything other than a Republican can be seen to some as a bit quixotic.
But is it really? The Houston businessman may have seemed like a long shot when he first announced he was considering a run several months ago, but recent successes this month in other GOP stronghold areas has made the whole prospect less far-fetched.
Collier said his platform’s foundation is in two intersecting areas — public education and property taxes. For an hour, CandysDirt.com engaged in a question and answer session with the candidate. Below are some of his responses.
CD: How would you describe the last legislative session?
Collier: “Well, it was disastrous, if you look at it from the perspective of ordinary Texans. You have plenty of real problems in the state, and they’re serious and they affect people’s lives — and our legislature could not bring themselves to work on those issues because of its leadership.
They worked on everything under the sun except the real issues for reasons that I don’t understand.
We have some good schools, but we have some schools that need help — that’s a problem. Property taxes are going up much faster than our economy, and much faster than our incomes — that’s a problem.”
CD: This legislative session, there was a great deal of concern about school finance — primarily with a threat to take public education dollars and move them to vouchers. How should we fund education? What does a serious look at that look like?
Collier: “There were folks that wanted to increase funding for public education and they were blocked, and then the voucher folks were blocked, too. As a result, nothing got done.
That’s the state of play in Texas politics, and I personally think that that’s the consequence of having a one-party system. Their concern is about the party, instead of policy. We need to force them to compete on the basis of their ideas.
It’s (vouchers) come up for a vote in the legislature in something like 50 times in the last 10 years. And each time it comes up it gets voted down because it’s a bad idea. So it’s really just unfair to a lot of taxpayers.
It is a terrible idea and so I just took it as one of my political objectives that it never comes up again. I’m so tired of hearing about it.”
CD: What about high-stakes testing — where does that fit into your education plan?
Collier: “Testing is one of the reasons critical thinking skills are collapsing. High-stakes testing is a terrible idea. It was designed by people that have no idea about what works in the classroom. I’d like to get rid of it and replace it with something appropriate.
Now we absolutely must measure — I like to joke and say I’ll probably I’ll probably go home and measure something. I like to measure and calculate.
But to the measuring metric systems have to be appropriate and effective. When we get rid of this system and replace it we should replace it with a system designed by people that know what they’re doing and understand how children learn.
Let’s decide what it takes to be very, very successful and then invest appropriately. Then, Texans can have the confidence that their money is being invested well.”
CD: Do you think most people realize that their property taxes are going up because school districts and other local entities are having to make up for decreases in state funding?
Collier: “I view our school funding system as a money laundering scheme — and you can quote me on that.
You have school taxes going up, but spending per student is going down. It’s coming out of our pockets, and not going into our schools — it’s going into the general fund to the state of Texas.
The root cause is the state’s fiscal policy of withdrawing support of public education. In 2008, the state was matching property taxes dollar for dollar. The last budget, the local contribution is 62 percent, the state is 38 percent. It’s going to Austin, and it’s staying in Austin — that’s where they got the money to cut the margin tax.
My opponent knows that people are furious about property taxes. He tried to push the blame on school districts and cap them artificially, which is an absolute disaster.
We ought to be angry at property taxes — but don’t be angry at your school district. They’re not spending your money — the state is.
There’s a huge problem within the property tax system itself. The appraisal and appeals process is based on state law, and that state law is defective, and it’s costing public education $5 billion a year.
Equal and Uniform is good for homeowners and small business, but if you are the owner of the large commercial property, you can manipulate and reduce your value of your property to well below market value.
And they do. And that’s unconstitutional because the Constitution is designed to protect you and me, and it states very clearly that if you have a property subject to tax, it will be at market value.
CD: According to my notes, from 2011 to 2013, equity protests and litigation peeled more than $57 billion in taxable commercial and industrial value from Bexar, Dallas, Houston, and Travis counties.
Collier: “With our current property tax system, the burden is shifting over to homeowners and small businesses.
If we had political competition, people would know about this, and they wouldn’t be getting an unbelievably raw deal. I mean, in the state of Texas if you’re a homeowner and a small business owner you are getting an unbelievably raw deal.
I changed parties from GOP to Democrat in 2011. Remember when the comptroller said then that there was this huge deficit and districts would need to fire teachers? And then they did, and then the comptroller came back and said we had a surplus.
Now I smell a rat for the beginning you know, because my property taxes — which I thought was meant for schools — were going up, and somebody in Austin is telling me we’re running out of money and we’ve got to fire a bunch of teachers.
It’s a money laundering scheme.
Total spending for public education is something like $60 billion. We have a rainy day fund of $11 billion, and our debt is eight times that number.
The Texas Teacher Retirement Fund is in the red. Underfunded. We owe an estimated $170 billion in retirement. We’ve salted away $130 billion. If we let this go on much longer, will not be able to pay teachers their retirement stipend.
The two greatest frauds the Republican party has ever perpetrated on Texans are that Republicans don’t raise taxes — because they do — and Republicans balance the books — because they do not.”
CD: What are your views on the mandatory sales price disclosures for commercial properties
Collier: “We are one of the few states that doesn’t do that. I don’t see why we don’t. My job is to represent the homeowners and small businesses.
Yes — they’ll have better price discovery. It’s going to keep the big corporations honest. That’s big part of the loophole they use to reduce their taxes.”
CD: In light of what happened in Sutherland Springs, what are your feelings on gun control?
Collier: “It’s so political that we can’t even have a rational conversation about it anymore. I don’t know what the right answer is. It’s more than just guns — I mean, there’s no denying the fact that guns are involved, but there’s more to it than that.
We need to bring together experts on constitutional law, public safety, citizens, advocates on both sides, and see where there is common ground. I know that Texans are longing to live in a society where they feel safe. I just want leaders to have a rational conversation about it.”
CD: One last question, before we run out of time. Gerrymandering?
Collier: “It is the root cause of all of our political dysfunction in American — and in the state. Compromise isn’t possible because boundaries are drawn with such precision by computation.”
Bethany Erickson is the education, consumer affairs, and public policy columnist for CandysDirt.com. Contact her at email@example.com.