Good news, bad news

Bill Hobby, a former Texas lieutenant governor, was often quoted as saying any impending legislative session would be about the allocation of money or appropriation of tax dollars. All else, said Hobby, was poetry.

I’m not sure it was poetry, but anything other than the allocation of money fades into obscurity during any legislative session. Always the last and most important focus of any session is the passage of the appropriations bill and adjustments for differences therein between the House and Senate.

The current session of the Legislature has begun with false statements, emanating from the governor’s office, that Texas is spending more than enough on public education and the Legislature should explore a constitutional amendment that would allow refunding of excessive tax money back to the taxpayers. Any such proposal seriously considered would be harmful. First of all, the greatest generator and source of tax to fund state activities is a sales tax. It seems it would be impossible to determine how much sales tax that has been paid by each and every citizen. Quite likely, the only returns that would be advocated by the current leadership would be business taxes paid. The other problem is that any reduction in state taxes will almost certainly bring a corresponding increase in local property taxes. The state, having abandoned its responsibility in funding statewide public education, has strained local property owners’ abilities to support education to the fullest.

Liberals decry the fact that one-fourth of Texas children have no assurance they will be adequately fed; that Texas has more children in need of adequate medical insurance or medical care than any other state in the union; and that too many children do not have adequate education and suffer in poverty. Correspondingly, the conservative leadership of the state touts the business climate of Texas; the fact the state has no income tax; and that Texas’ growth is outstripping other states of the United States. All of these circumstances combined represent bad news for our state.

Additionally, the highway fund is barely adequate to maintain the bare minimum maintenance of our once proud Texas highway system. Our legislature has expressed an intent not to replace the $5 billion or more taken out of public education efforts, adequately funding public schools so that the more than 100,000 school employees can be re-hired. And serious doubts exist concerning the state of Texas’ ability to deal with its Medicaid requirements concerning the health of the elderly and children.

There appears to be some good news, however. More and more business groups such as the Texas Association of Business are not only recognizing but publishing their doubts about whether or not the state of Texas, because of its spectacular growth, will in the future have adequate resources such as water to accommodate continued growth and prosperity. There is much concern over repeated cutbacks in public education and the increasing cost of higher education and whether in the very near future the state will have an adequately trained workforce to accommodate jobs of the future.

One real hope for the future of Texas is that responsible, right-thinking people in business will reject the pandering of politicians to simply advocate no more taxes and the continuation of cutting not only the fat from state government, but cutting essential services required by a growing state.

Hopefully, the business community, along with other influential groups such as the medical establishment of this state, will continue to demand real answers as to how the state will and should address future needs to maintain a prosperous and growing state.

Already business groups are advocating an increase in the motor fuel tax, or increase the dedication of sales taxes on new vehicles to the highway fund. Additionally, some business groups are even addressing the issue of whether Texas’ “lock ’em up and throw away the key” strategy has worked to prevent crimes, or instead has only worked to increase the cost of prisons and the number of citizens incarcerated at great expense to the public. Even Gov. Rick Perry, after having stood by and at least approved legislation to allow various boards of regents to increase college tuition at their will, now expresses concern and demands that colleges figure out a way to grant a $10,000 four-year degree.

Texas and Texans deserve responsible, visionary leadership, not simply political platitudes and pandering to individual greed and paranoia about our state government’s future.