Texas needs an ‘earnings fee’

Recently, while watching television, I noticed a Geico insurance ad in which the speaker asked, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?” He reasoned that it did. This got me to thinking about the ever-present pledge of conservative members of the Texas Legislature about no new taxes. This question comes to my mind: If it’s not called a tax, is it a tax, even though it takes money out of taxpayers’ pockets?

You would never get our governor or his trusty followers to admit that raising fees is tantamount to imposing a tax. Rep. Harvey Hildebran, chairman of the Revenue and Tax Committee, seems to indicate in his remarks that at some point a fee could rise to the level of a tax. The Legislature, in all probability, will raise the cost of your hunting and fishing license, your driver’s license, cost of your insurance and will increase the state charge on local criminal fines. The governor’s definition of tax seems to be, “It’s only a tax if you call it a tax.” The Legislature is not calling taxes the additional fee for a stamp to hunt reptiles, increased college tuition, or enhanced criminal fines. Those are just considered fees. All of this has given me a bright idea about how we might improve the revenue income of the state.

What we simply need to do is enact an “earnings fee” whereby anyone earning money in Texas must pay a 1.5 percent fee on those earnings. Of course, it would not be a tax because we’d call it a fee. It only applies to those people who choose to earn money in Texas. I’m certain those who differ with me will say it is still an income tax. Well, it’s no more a tax than calling increased tuition on college students a fee and not a tax.

You can always find interesting things to write about simply by looking at the litany of bills introduced in the Legislature. For a session that has absolutely pledged in blood to enact no new taxes, there are probably more than 250 bills introduced having to do with new taxes. Most of them, however, apply only to consumers, not to the filthy rich. For example, there’s going to be a new tax on beer and chewing tobacco. Last time I checked, most millionaires in Texas don’t chew tobacco and are more inclined to drink champagne than beer. One of the more interesting proposals is to add a sales tax on oilfield portable toilets and certain other portable buildings connected with the oil patch. I doubt seriously if there are many millionaires using port-a-potties, no matter where they might be.

Other things I find interesting in this session of great financial need for the state are proposals to exempt school art supplies and certain guns and ammunition used for hunting. Upon reflection, however, this probably makes sense as to the guns, but not to the art supplies. At the rate we’re going, with all the fees being raised by these conservative Republicans, many Texans are likely to have to resort to hunting game to put food on their tables. The art supplies for schools, however, do not make sense in that we are about to fire so many teachers, what good will it do to have art supplies for the school and no teacher to show kids how to use them? There are many other silly things in the Tax Code I’ve never been able to see the logic of. Giving big oil companies huge tax breaks at a time they’re making record profits and classifying country clubs as agricultural endeavors to give them a bigger tax break than the average homeowner in Texas make no sense to me. Then again, what do I know?