Michael Quinn Sullivan, CEO of Empower Texans, was the guest speaker at the Pecan Valley Republican Women’s Club meeting Thursday night at the Adams Street Community Center.
According to its website, Empower Texans — formed in 2006 — is a non-profit service organization that, through multiple media formats, educates and inspires Texans to exercise effective citizenship. Using research, reporting, and advocacy, the organization empowers taxpayers to advocate for good governance and to hold their elected officials accountable.
The EmpowerTexans.com website goes on to state, “The greatest threat to our state’s economic growth and competitiveness is the weight of government on the economy. If government and taxes are allowed to grow without restraint, the economy will contract, thereby limiting opportunities for all Texans. We seek policy outcomes that provide increasing levels of economic liberty and opportunity for all Texans by controlling the size of government. Government power and reach must be strictly limited, with elected officials held accountable by active and informed citizens.”
Sullivan’s near hour-long speech focused primarily on school funding and property taxes.
“These are intertwined issues that we’re going to have to confront and address both from a fiscal perspective as well as the long-term health of our republic,” Sullivan said in his opening remarks. “There’s a big effort, a lot of discussion about reforming property taxes, but you can’t talk about fixing property taxes without also talking about school finance. At the end of the day, half to two-thirds of your property tax bill is school property taxes.”
In regard to school finance, Sullivan spoke about the amount of spending that goes on outside of classrooms. One of the points Sullivan focused on was high school football stadiums and scoreboards.
“It’s amazing that we talk about we don’t have enough money to educate kids, and yet the Allen ISD made headlines a couple of years ago for their $60 million football stadium,” Sullivan said. “Then it becomes a bidding contest between other schools to see who can have the next most expensive, or who can top it.”
To mixed reviews, Brownwood ISD purchased, at a cost of approximately $500,000, a new scoreboard, with a video screen, for Gordon Wood Stadium prior to the 2017 football campaign.
“There was a running problem for years and it’s still going on of high schools vying for the best ‘jumbotron’ in their region,” Sullivan, who stated he is the son of a former high school football coach, added. “The top 10 high school ‘jumbotrons’ are all in Texas — and they’re only in Texas. You don’t have high schools with ‘jumbotrons’ anywhere else.
“The question is why are we doing public education? Are we doing it to employ people so that contractors can pour concrete for football stadiums, so the ‘jumbotron’ manufacturers have something to do? That’s not what our state constitution says. The state constitution says a general diffusion of knowledge, being necessary for the protection of the freedom and the liberties of the republic, is why we have public education. We’ve lost sight of that.”
During the Q&A portion of the event, Sullivan was asked about the assertion that Empower Texans is the harshest critic of the Texas public school system.
“We are the biggest cheerleaders for what public schools can be,” Sullivan said. “I am a fierce critic of anything that is wasting money and wasting time. I want to see Texas public schools doing what the state constitution has lined up for public schools to do. And I am a critic of adults who profit off of a system that’s failing the kids.”
In regard to property taxes, Sullivan emphasized the plural of the word — taxes.
“We don’t have a property tax, we have thousands and thousands of property taxes levied throughout the state,” Sullivan said. “You can yell at city council members or county commissioners or junior college board members, but there’s no magic wand you wave and they all go up or down.
“It is imperative for the state’s economy to address property taxes because we have reached a point where Texas has one of the highest property tax burdens in the nation. They’re high for you as an individual, but they’re especially high for business concerns and industrial concerns, and we need more of those moving here.”