AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick spoke with Breitbart Texas in an exclusive interview following a press conference on education. The Lt. Governor spoke about border security, tax relief for homeowners and businesses, and education reform. Patrick said the Texas Senate is fast-tracking a number of issues and expressed pride in their accomplishments.
“The border is not secure,” Governor Patrick said. “We have put twice the amount of money the House has put in to secure the border — $800 million. Governor Abbott and I have fought to keep the Guard on the border and I believe the House agrees to continue them.”
We do want to eventually draw down our National Guard,” Patrick explained, “but only when we can replace them with new DPS [Texas Department of Public Safety] officers. It takes a while to train hundreds of officers through the academy and train those officers.”
“We’ve done a better job,” he continued, “but the border is not secure. It’s still vulnerable to terrorists, the drug cartels, anyone coming here illegally, and all the contraband. Our National Guard, our Rangers, our DPS, our State Guard, they’ve all done a really good job and apprehensions are down – in some weeks 60 percent down from where they were nine months ago.”
Patrick said the process to bring on additional troopers could take a few years to complete. The special DPS academy, reported on earlier by Breitbart Texas, will put already qualified Texas peace officers through an accelerated program and get some additional officers quickly on the border. Patrick said the DPS currently runs two regular academies per year. “You have an automatic attrition,” he explained. “We don’t keep every officer. Some retire, some go to work for Houston, Dallas or other police departments and sheriff’s departments.”
The Lt. Governor also acknowledged how difficult a program the DPS training syllabus is. “The DPS has a very rugged six-month course,” he stated. “I’ve known some soldiers who have just gotten out of the service after serving in Afghanistan or Iraq and they said, ‘This is tougher than boot camp.’ We demand a lot and so it depends on the year as to how many make it through.”
He explained with these factors they can expand the number of DPS troopers by about 200 per year. He talked about the accelerated program and using people with former military and law enforcement experience and then concluded with, “We don’t want to short-circuit this great training that we have.”
On tax relief, the Lt. Governor said that last week, “we rolled out a $4.7 billion tax relief package for homeowners and business owners.”
“For business owners, currently if you are a small business you have a $1 million exemption where you don’t pay any tax,” he explained. “We’re going to raise that exemption for small businesses up to $4 million and that’s fifty-two percent of all the businesses that pay the business tax. So we will wipe them off the business tax rolls.”
“Secondly,” he continued, “all of the businesses that are above $4 million that are paying the tax, we give them a fifteen percent rate cut and that will be another step into eliminating the business tax, hopefully in a very short period of time.”
Patrick quoted the current homestead exemption as being set at $15,000. That exemption has been fixed at that level since the 1990s he said. “$15,000 was a bigger percentage of a $65,000 home of twenty years ago, so we’re going to make the homestead exemption twenty-five percent of whatever the median price of a home is in Texas. That would increase a homeowner’s exemption today from $15,000 to over $33,000 immediately.”
He explained this would allow the exemption to adjust automatically with inflation. He said they are also looking at appraisal relief so that taxes do not continue to go up due to inflation.
On education, Patrick said he is working on a comprehensive education reform. “We are focused on school choice, which is really parental choice,” he said.
“We have 297 schools, roughly, a little under three hundred that we have rated as a failure here in Texas” Governor Patrick explained. He said these are three hundred out of 85,000 campuses that have been rated as a failure for two or more years.
“No child or parent should be stuck in a failing school,” he stated. “We’re going to do a number of things. We’re going to create ‘Opportunity School District’ so that the state can take over failing schools and turn them around. We’re going to have a parent trigger where parents can become involved and actually take over the leadership and help direct that school to help turn around certain aspects of that school.”
Patrick said they are looking at new teach evaluations, and new accountability systems. “We are looking at rating all of our schools as A-F,” he explained. He said this will be so that “every parent knows, ‘is my son or daughter in a C school or an A school?’” Currently schools are rated as “acceptable” or “unacceptable.”
Governor Patrick said they will be focusing on other pieces of legislation related to school choice soon. In response to a question about parents’ concerns about accountability for private schools and Common Core, Patrick said that during the last session of the legislature, he and State Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) made it against the law to have Common Core in Texas.
“The Home School Coalition supported me when I ran for the Senate back in ’07,” Patrick said. “I cherish our home schoolers and we’re not going to let anything interfere with them at all.”
“What we’re talking about in School Choice is,” he said, “If your child is in a failing school, the parent should have the choice to go to a charter school. If there is not charter school available, then go to another public school that’s a quality school. If that’s not available then we start looking at these private options.”
“We don’t have a specific bill yet,” Patrick concluded. “There’s three approaches that we’re working on and at the end of the day, whatever bill has the most support and is the best bill is the one we will move out of the Senate. But what we’re focused on is private schools willing to take on these students. The only requirement for these private schools, the same way with public charters, is yes, that they have to be accountable, but that’s up to those schools. If the schools don’t want to participate, they don’t have to participate.”
He said they have a number of schools from many religious faiths that “want to take on these struggling kids and they’re ready to step up.”
Patrick ended the interview with a quick tour of the Lt. Governor’s office. He talked about the history of Texas and the responsibility of being a servant. The office is decorated with autographs from “every former President of the United States except Polk and Obama.” He also referenced the map behind us during the interview that contains signatures of the founding fathers of Texas.