As state lawmakers prepare to draft the next biennial budget, a majority of Texans favor spending billions of dollars in the state’s surplus on school safety, mental health services and tax breaks for businesses and property owners.
A statewide poll conducted by the University of Houston’s Hobby School also found that a majority of Texans agree that a significant portion of the $33 billion surplus should remain in the state’s coffers for future consideration.
Eighty-five percent of those surveyed were in favor of using the money for school safety and security grants. School safety has become a top priority for some Texans after a gunman killed 21 people, including 19 schoolchildren, at Uvalde Elementary School in May. But Republicans, who hold sizable majorities in the Texas House of Representatives and Senate, have not expressed support for stricter gun laws, KUT reported.
Respondents were asked if they supported “paying for security systems, metal detectors, fencing, door locking systems, alarm systems and more secure windows and doors,” the poll showed. More than 80 percent of respondents favored five more mental institutions in Texas.
More than 70 percent of respondents supported expanding the so-called business personal property tax exemption — for business spending on equipment such as computers and furniture — to $100,000 from the current $2,500. Despite Texas positioning itself as a pro-business state, a 2019 analysis by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association found that the tax made the state less competitive.
More than 70 percent of respondents also favored expanding the homestead property tax exemption to $60,000 from the current $40,000. The property tax cut was an issue both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick supported during their re-election campaigns, the Texas Tribune reported last month, though they disagreed on how much of the surplus should be spent on the cut.
Most respondents also favor the exemption from sales tax on educational supplies and electronics (such as textbooks and supplies such as laptops) purchased by college students during the annual tax-free weekend before the start of the school year. Tax breaks for other items such as baby wipes, diapers and feminine hygiene products have also received strong support. State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) introduced a bill known as the “pink tax” to exempt menstrual products from the tax.
“We have exemptions for various other products that are not medically necessary, that are not necessary to go to school and work or to make sure you have the protections you need,” Howard told KUT when he introduced the legislation last November. “It’s something that all women use most of their lives. So it’s a discriminatory tax.”
If passed, Texas would join the ranks of two dozen states with tax exemptions already on the books.
Respondents also strongly favor expanding Medicaid coverage for postpartum care in Texas from six months to 12 months. That includes 91 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents and 63 percent of Republicans.
When asked how much of the surplus should be saved, the most common answer by about 27% of respondents was between $10 billion and $14 billion. Only 8% of respondents believe that the $25 billion to full surplus should be unspent.
The survey was conducted in English and Spanish between January 9-19 with 1,200 respondents.
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