There’s a fundamental flaw in the way too many of us, who aren’t of the far right ideology, try to fight and reason with the far right/wing nuts. No matter what Jim Pitts and John Zerwas say. They have a completely different belief system and they do not aspire to the same end, and it’s foolish for us to assume they do. I want to make clear that this is not to pick on anyone or any organization, it’s just a realization that we must come to in order to fight the right as is needed.
Here’s an example of the flaw from the CPPP’s latest, Where Did All The Money Go? Tax Cuts, Abatements, And Subsidies.
Public structures—including education, health services, water supplies and transportation infrastructure—help maintain Texans’ quality of life, and they require adequate revenue to function properly. To provide adequate revenue, our state needs a balanced tax code without tax cuts, abatements, and subsidies that let some dodge their share of responsibility. Reducing taxes paid by some businesses means that other businesses or families have to make up the difference to help us take care of our public structures so they continue to take care of us. Investments in Texas’ future through education, health and human services, water and transportation will lead to a better chance for a more prosperous future for all of us than would tax breaks for certain businesses or so-called “economic development incentives” that lower taxes on a select few companies. [Emphasis added]
The wing nuts never intend for anyone or any group to ever make up for that. Their aim is to make sure that government never again tries to provide those things for it’s citizens.
Again, not to pick on anyone. I believe in what the CPPP wants to do, this is not a policy argument but a strategic/tactical argument. McCown: State’s tax structure needs fixing.
The hard truth, though, is that spending from the rainy day fund without reforming our state’s antiquated tax system is irresponsible. While we have a growing trillion-and-a-half-dollar economy, our antiquated revenue system — relying primarily on a sales tax on goods — takes an ever smaller percentage of our income, leaving the state too little to support the public services necessary to foster our economy. [Emphasis added]
And that’s just music to the wing nut ear. It’s pretty obvious that an ideology that wants to cut taxes, whether the state has a shortfall or a surplus, and never wants to adequately fund government will never reform our tax code in a way that would pay for things they see as an abomination.
The only way that the needed policy changes that the CPPP proposes and Texas needs is to replace our elected leaders. The sooner the better.
The GOP in Texas loves nothing more then giving tax breaks to the already meagerly taxed businesses and corporations in our state. They give them tax breaks like they’re free, Texas House votes for wide range of tax cuts for businesses.
The House embraced hundreds of millions of dollars in new business tax cuts late Tuesday, adding breaks for aerospace companies, pipelines, private hospitals and broadcasters to a ballooning tax relief bill.
House members tentatively approved the measure, 112-27, after hours of debate in which Democrats lamented that the House was creating loopholes in a flawed tax system while still underfunding priorities such as public schools.
The bill began as a $397 million laundry list of corrective actions for aggrieved businesses. But after hours of wrangling, it wound up dropping about $667 million of breaks onto an ever-wider array of trade groups and businesses with complaints about the 2006 margins tax, as the old business-franchise levy was dubbed.
Ah yes, the margins tax. It was implemented to replace the money from lowering property taxes. I did not lower property taxes and it created a structural budget deficit in Texas.
In 2006 the Legislature required school districts to reduce their school property tax rates by one-third, but committed to replacing the foregone property tax revenue so that the school districts would maintain their total state/local revenue. To fund this commitment, the state reformed the franchise tax (now popularly known as the “margins tax,” for reasons explained below) and increased the cigarette tax. However, the new state revenue raised by these changes falls some $10 billion short in each biennium of replacing the property tax revenue given up by the school districts.
Which the GOP has used as a tool to defund public education. It was like Christmas Day for businesses on the House floor yesterday and there were presents for all, except the actual taxpayers.
Hilderbran’s bill would make permanent a tax exemption for about 28,000 of the state’s smallest businesses — those with less than $1 million in gross annual receipts. It would tax auto repair shops — now paying a 1 percent rate, after deductions — at the same 0.5 percent rate paid by auto service departments at retail stores such as Sears.
The bill originally granted relief to groups ranging from crop dusters to oil land men to haulers of heavy aggregates used in construction. Members then added more than a dozen amendments, tweaking rates for some categories of filers and letting retailers deduct part of their costs of letting customers use credit cards.
Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, sponsored an $80 million amendment that shaved by 5 percent the rate paid by businesses that deduct their payroll before calculating how much they owe.
The House swiftly approved other proposals helping aerospace and defense contractors (at a cost of $20.3 million); private hospitals that treat Medicaid patients ($18.8 million); pipelines ($10 million); and broadcasters ($2.9 million).
And Democrats were rightly pissed.
A veteran Democrat who has served on the House’s tax-writing panel said the bill would further weaken a poorly drawn tax.
“It takes a stupid tax policy and makes it stupider,” said Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin.
“Out of control,” fumed House Democratic leader Yvonne Davis of Dallas.
She said public schools have made some gains in the House’s version of the next two-year budget, but the increased pressure to find room for tax cuts could reverse that.
Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, asked Hilderbran if House leaders told him how high he could let the bill’s price tag creep.
“I haven’t been given a specific number,” Hilderbran said. “But … I’ve been trying to be responsible.”
The two argued over who would benefit.
“Is there anything in this [bill] that provides a tax break for mom and dad that’s working every day, paying for child care, trying to take care of their bills?” Turner asked.
Hilderbran replied: “Absolutely, the small employers, the mom and pop businesses get relief in this bill … and will be stronger.”
In other words, no is the answer. Not only is it key to see what is passing through The Lege, we must be mindful of what is not.
Medicaid expansion looks unlikely to pass.
“I’m disappointed,” Zerwas said. “It’s one of the biggest issues of the session and we didn’t really have the robust debate I thought we should have. But people on the pay scale above me made the decision.”
Zerwas said supporters “had enough support to carry the House — certainly, over 80 votes.” He said he crafted a compromise with Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, that would make Texas’ effort resemble as closely as possible the Medicaid block grant preferred by many Texas conservatives — including both Perrys, Rick and Charles.
Zerwas said if the deal with Charles Perry were approved as a floor amendment, Rep. Perry was prepared to become a co-author. But Zerwas said he couldn’t overcome resistance in the Calendars Committee.
Prospects for payday lending regulation decline. There’s much more on the payday lending’s corruption of our political system here. Of course these issues, if passed, would help the people and taxpayers of Texas. It would seem that’s why they’re unlikely to pass.
The state of Texas has many pressing issues, Texas At Risk In Ability to Compete and Succeed.
The news isn’t good: Texas is facing a crisis in health and human services, education, and clean air and water. If our leaders continue to fail to address these pressing concerns, the prosperous future of our state is at risk.
Unfortunately, Republican leaders from Rick Perry on down refuse to address the reality faced by most Texans, and too few Democrats seem willing to draw a line in the sand and stand firmly in favor of restoring cuts to education and expanding access to health care.
Let’s suffice it to say that the tax burden on Texas businesses isn’t’ one of them. Which is why this seems particularly cruel, David Dewhurst says Texas Senate will push for more business tax cuts.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says the Texas Senate will push for expanded tax cuts, adding relief for research-driven businesses and broadband and telecom companies to a package that already targets electricity ratepayers and small business.
Dewhurst said the exemption of research and development costs would cost about $240 million.
A fourth proposal the Senate backs is a sales tax refund for telecom, Internet and cable TV companies, he said. Its cost would be capped at $50 million a year.
While Perry has said lawmakers should pay for some part of the tax cuts with rainy day dollars, Dewhurst said the Senate wants to pay for at least half of the tab with available general-purpose state revenue.
“Whether part or all of the rest would come from the rainy day fund is not decided,” he said.
Yes, tax cuts take precedence over funding public education, a finding a way to bring health care to close to 2 million uninsured Texans, to name just two of the festering issues in Texas. Our state leaders really have misplaced priorities. But it likely has everything to do with the needs of those at the top of the wealth spectrum. That is who our democracy listens to, not those that are truly in need.
Let’s be clear about what our state government’s priorities are, via Gov. Rick Perry’s web site.
Texas has cultivated a business climate second to none, earning honors from national news outlets like Forbes and MSNBC for economic strength and business-friendly policies. More importantly, Texas has been consistently attracting employers seeking a better place to start or expand their businesses.
The Lone Star State’s combination of low taxes, reasonable and predictable regulatory structure and fair court system provides a stable base upon which to build the Texas economy, while the state’s diverse and hard-working workforce is prepared to meet any need an employer can present. [Emphasis added]
Texas is the most dangerous state to go to work in and Rick Perry likes it that way.
After Perry touted Texas’ low tax and low regulatory burden on businesses, an Orange County Register reporter mentioned Texas’ poor record of worker safety, asking, “Can you speak to safety in your lower-regulation state?”
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the regulation side,” Perry said. “You all in California are not very knowledgeable about the energy industry” which, he said,“is a fairly dangerous workplace’ compared to other industries. He argued that worker injuries and deaths would not be reduced by better safety regulations: “It’s not because of lack of regulations.”
The wonder of libertarian zoning laws, West, Texas edition.
But compounding the carnage, it seems as if half the town was leveled including several schools and houses five blocks from the plant. But wait, there were houses five blocks from a fertilizer plant? There were actually houses across the street from this plant, and not just houses, but two of the town’s three schools:
This (via McBlogger), West Explosion Raises Regulatory Questions.
Recovery efforts continued Friday in West, two days after the town was devastated by a fertilizer plant explosion. And as investigators search for the cause of the explosion, environmentalists said that the situation highlighted lax regulations in Texas for plants handling dangerous chemicals.
So far there are at least 14 confirmed fatalities and many of the 200 injured remain hospitalized.
The fertilizer plant was located near to several buildings, including a school, which were heavily damaged or destroyed by the blast. The plant’s owner, a West resident named Donald Adair, put out a statement on Friday saying, “My heart is broken with grief for the tragic losses to so many families in our community.” As the investigation proceeds, he said, the company is “presenting all employees for interviews and will assist in the fact-finding to whatever degree possible.”
“We really need to look at dangerous, hazardous facilities like this, no matter how small they might be, in relationship to schools and nursing homes and so forth,” Carman said. In West, the situation could have been worse if children were in school, he said.
Hind, of Greenpeace, said that the location of facilities with dangerous chemicals in urban areas was not limited to Texas. Railcars filled with chlorine can go through big cities like Detroit and Miami, he said.
Patricia Kilday-Hart has more, Scope of threat in West a surprise to feds.
No control over safety
Whether a fire could trigger a devastating and deadly explosion was not a factor to be considered under state law, said Larry Soward, who was on the commission at the time.
“Unfortunately, the actual safety of the operators is not something TCEQ has any jurisdiction over,” said Soward, now a consultant with Air Alliance Houston. “I’ve said for a long time we ought to be able to look at whether something is properly located from a public health and environmental standpoint.”
State Chemist Tim Herrman, whose office oversees the 592 Texas fertilizer facilities that have registered with the state, said inspectors “are in those establishments on a frequent basis,” but strictly to enforce laws pertaining to packaging, labeling and testing for contaminants. His office maintains a list of 1,105 firms registered to manufacture or distribute fertilizer in Texas. “We do what the law tells us to do.”
On Saturday, his small office – actually a department within Texas A&M University – posted public records showing the plant had been cited several times in the last decade for mislabeling the contents of its products.
TCEQ budget cut
But fertilizer production is overseen in many other states by state Departments of Agriculture, and many of them were involved when the federal government promulgated new rules requiring disclosure of large quantities of ammonium nitrate.
Environmental activists said Texas is proud of its small government philosophy that imposes few regulations, but that means Texas lags behinds other states in protecting the environment. Last session, the Texas Legislature cut the TCEQ’s budget by $305 million, leading to a reduction of 235 full-time employees.
Also, volunteer fire departments aren’t subject to the same oversight as their paid, professional counterparts. The Texas Commission on Fire Protection has adopted some standards promulgated by the National Fire Protection Association, but does not oversee volunteer fire departments. Had the plant been inspected by a fire safety expert enforcing NFPA standards, it would have had to comply with specific codes addressing safe storage of ammonium nitrate.
At a press conference late Friday, Gov. Rick Perry expressed a willingness to review whether state regulations were sufficient. He pointed out that the plant was subject to “local zoning, state requirements and federal requirements” and that “sometimes they mesh and sometimes they don’t.”
“If there’s a better way to do this, we want to know about it,” Perry said. “I assure you with the Legislature in session, there will be plenty of opportunities” to examine the regulatory framework.
Travis Considine, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, indicated it was too early to predict whether new legislation would be adopted in response to the explosion.
“As with any incident of this magnitude, the only prudent course of action is to determine and review the facts first,” he said.
In a state with austerity budgeting and an emphasis on being “business friendly” something like this was bound to happen. Whether any of this changes is up to us. If we keep electing the same people to office we should not expect different results.
Hazards at West Fertilizer plant were largely unknown to public.
Come To Texas, Where It’s Better For Business!.
After West Fertilizer Explosion, Concerns Over Safety, Regulation and Zoning.
In Photos: Fertilizer Plant Explosion in West, Texas.
It appears that Paul Burka is trying to shame Rick Perry with this post, The Tea Party, Rick Perry, and Debt.
I seldom find myself in agreement with the tea party, but they are dead right in their skepticism of debt. This is why you can make the argument that Rick Perry is not a true conservative. He won’t raise taxes, but he doesn’t mind going deep into debt–and retiring debt is about the most expensive thing government can do. His proposal to capitalize $41 billion in debt to build roads is rash.
All that needs to be said to that is malarkey. The so-called “conservatives” since St. Ronnie have been about nothing but debt. That is modern conservatism, starve the beast, run up deficits with tax cuts and then cut government. But the only thing more bizarre is what Burka thinks the cure should be. A “blue ribbon” panel of our state “conservative” leaders to raise taxes.
I would urge state leaders to put together a blue ribbon panel on the issue of how we should finance state government. The classic model of government finance is the “three-legged stool”: a combination of sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes. Trouble is, in Texas, one of those legs is missing, and I doubt that it will ever be “found.” What Texas does have that most other states lack is severance taxes on oil and gas. But relying on severance taxes is not a good long-term strategy because the price of oil is volatile. Back in 1986, oil fell below $10 a barrel. What I think Texas needs to do is protect the revenue stream of its most important tax, the sales tax. This can be achieved by raising the sales tax in small increments over time. The same could be done for the gasoline tax. The idea is not for the state to get a windfall. The idea is to ensure that the revenue stream is protected, that when the economy tanks, as it will eventually do, the state has the flexibility to raise the rate.
One thing that such a panel should tackle is tax exemptions. The biggest of these is the ag tax break. I certainly support ag tax breaks for individual landowners who make their living from the land. But the ag tax break should not be available to major corporations who get a break from running cattle on their land.
That’s about as likely to happen as Perry and the wing nuts accepting Medicaid expansion, as is.
Burka does a little better trashing Perry’s tax cut proposal. Debt and tax cuts are the GOP’s economic plan.
In fact, this is one of the worst. He wants to cut a tax that is underperforming. The state’s business margins tax was created in the middle of the previous decade to close the gap between the cost of a 33% cut in school property taxes, mandated by the Texas Supreme Court and enacted in 2003, and the amount required to sustain the Foundation School Program. As most readers are well aware, the margins tax never brought in the amount it was predicted to produce. As a result, with each succeeding biennium, the underperformance of the margins tax opened a recurring $2 billion structural deficit in the state budget, which is one reason the state’s budget, and particularly education funding, has been in trouble for most of the first decade of the 21st century. The structural deficit, which the LBB acknowledged in 2009, is a major reason for the chronic underfunding of education.
Yep, that’s the Texas GOP’s intentional plan to defund public education, which true conservatives have always hated.
I think Burka is honestly trying to find a way for everyone to just get along. But I think we’re way beyond that. The only way we can get back to rational politics again in this state is to start electing people that believe in things like public education again.
The Williamson County Commissioners Court (WCCC) is beginning their discussion of next year’s budget. The big issues are, as always, stting the county property tax rate, county employee salaries and benefits, and more spending for a rapidly growing county. Via the RRL, County starting budget process.
Williamson County’s plans for a potential November bond election won’t affect this year’s budgeting process – which is now starting – Budget Officer Ashlie Blaylock said this week.
However, an ongoing salary and compensation study could figure into the equation, with county officials potentially granting raises based on the outcome.
For the current year, salaries and benefits account for about 63 percent of the general fund. Also included in that is raises the Commissioners Court approved last summer: $2.1 million for non-law enforcement personnel and $56,759 (3-percent raises) for the county’s 19 elected officials.
Additionally, $18.6 million went to the road-and-bridge maintenance fund.
The final budget component is the $68.2 million currently dedicated for debt service. That consists of payments made on large construction projects – such as roads and buildings – that have usually been approved by voters during bond elections.
The current budget is funded by a tax rate of 48.9 cents per $100 assessed valuation. The “average” homeowner – one who has a home with a taxable value of $180,870 – paid $891 in county taxes for the current year.
As always, population growth will remain a driving factor in the budget process, county officials say.
EMS Director Kenny Schnell told commissioners last August: “We’ve seen a 50-perent increase in call volume during the last 10 to 12 years.”
The county’s population almost doubled during that same time frame.
According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, Williamson County’s population increased from about 250,000 to approximately 422,000, between 2000 and 2010.
According to the most-recent Census figures available, the county’s 2012 population was estimated at more than 456,000.
Because of that growth, last year commissioners approved hiring three new 911 dispatchers and three new EMS paramedics.
“We’ll probably have to add more EMS [personnel] next year, too,” County Judge Dan Gattis predicted last summer.
Also tomorrow, April 10th, is the first meeting of the county Bond Committee. They are tasked with coming up with a proposal for the WCCC, that can be on the ballot in November.
The first public meeting of the committee will be held on Wednesday, April 10, 6 p.m., at the historic Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main Street, Georgetown, in the Commissioners Courtroom. To view the agenda, click here.
This is your money, so pay attention. Their certainly are some needs around the county, especially one that’s growing as fast as Williamson. Interest rates are still very low, and it’s a good time to borrow, but we still must make sure that it’s for needed items and not frivolous give-aways to politically connected contractors.
One of the main reasons the states fiscal situation looks so rosy is because our state government is shirking it’s duty. They’re shifting the burden of paying for services down to the local governments.
But lots of government officials in Texas — Democrat and Republican — feel that state tax relief simply would send unpaid bills down to local taxpayers, putting even more burden on local property taxpayers.
From the rise of the mentally ill in county jails to neglected roads, local officials say their budgets are feeling the effect of a decade of austerity in Austin.
“When they tout no new taxes, they are forcing (government costs) down to the local level,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.
Meanwhile, an exploding population outside municipal boundaries has increased the need for government services in many counties, including Bexar.
“Instead of hiring more deputies or providing more libraries or parks, we’re picking up the gaps left by Austin,” Wolff said.
“We’re having less choices” in writing a budget, he said. He also called it “disingenuous” to claim a balanced budget on the state level, when local governments are assuming the bills for many state services.
As local governments have taken on more responsibilities, local taxes have spiked.
A study by state Comptroller Susan Combs recently found that local property tax revenues increased 188 percent in Texas between 1992 and 2010, while population and inflation grew only 120 percent. During the same period, local sales taxes climbed 170 percent.
Much of the tax increase can be attributed to schools and hospital districts, two areas that have been slammed by state budget cuts. Cities and counties also are feeling a pinch inflicted by decisions in Austin.
Last year, the State Budget Crisis Task Force, a national group led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch, found a “schizophrenic” relationship in Texas between the state and local governments.
The task force concluded that state leaders were “causing heartburn” by failing to “provide enough services to meet local needs, in effect devolving their cost to the local level.”
Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, agreed.
“Some people like to sweep problems under a rug,” said Coleman, chairman of the House County Affairs Committee. “The best rug to sweep them under is the counties’ rug.”
In other words the state stopped raising taxes, but the local governments could not, and did not. And our “conservative” state government is doing to local governments, what it says it doesn’t like when the federal government does it to the state.
Skeptics say local governments simply should tighten their belts, but Lee noted that two-thirds of expenses incurred by Texas counties, on average, are not discretionary.
For example, former state prison inmates who violate their parole are housed in county jails while awaiting a hearing, which can take weeks.
Likewise, many defendants who have been sentenced to prison are left in county jails for up to 45 days before transfer to a state facility.
Counties receive no compensation for providing health care to this population.
Coleman has introduced a constitutional amendment prohibiting the Legislature from imposing costly new mandates on counties without compensation. It will not protect against state budget cuts, but additional costs would not be imposed, he noted.
A spokeswoman for Perry said the governor’s proposal for tax relief always has been a priority.
“He continues to believe money does more good in the pockets of taxpayers than in state coffers,” Lucy Nashed said.
She noted that Perry named a task force to study unfunded mandates and said, “If the counties or Chairman Coleman have a list of specific unfunded mandates, we’d love to take a look a them.”
That task force, however, delivered a six-page list to Perry on May 6, 2011, citing specific costs forced on local governments, from jails to transportation to education.
The Ravitch-Volcker task force said state lawmakers — if they could not resist the urge not to pay for mandates — should at least not impose limitations on how local governments can raise revenue.
And like with their intransigence with regards to Medicaid expansion, these bad fiscal decisions will only likely cost the taxpayers more in the long run, then if they would have just done the right thing to begin with. For more on why this was happening, State and local debt skyrocketing….cause and effect.
There’s movement on raising the gas tax in Texas. It’s still and long, long, long, long way from reality though, Signs that some in GOP confronting reality.
But two Republicans in recent days have taken stands that indicate they’re willing to put the state before politics.
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the new House chairman of public education, was one of them Monday, as he sat on a stage in Baker Hall, answering questions during a public education symposium hosted by Rice University and the Texas Tribune.
Moderator Evan Smith, the Tribune’s editor-in-chief, tossed out a question about a controversial proposal by state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, to increase the state’s fuel tax for the first time in more than 20 years to fund roads and other needs. Smith, noting how the Republican senator had been dinged by critics for supporting a tax hike, asked Aycock if he’d support the idea.
“I’m going to be brave and say yes,” Aycock responded without hesitation, prompting an audible gasp from some in the standing-room-only crowd.
The bold comments from Eltife and Aycock are signs that lawmakers are starting to take seriously the state’s grave needs in areas of roads, water and investments in public and higher education, said Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst at the nonprofit Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans.
“It’s apparent that people are beginning to face reality,” Lavine told me. “If you want something, you have to pay for it sometimes.”
Still, he was careful to put the developments in perspective: “It’s sad that it has to be described as being ‘brave’ when, really, it’s just looking at the facts and coming to a very reasonable conclusion.”
True. But sometimes, in Texas, mere reasonableness is cause for celebration.
Well the first step to fixing a problem is to admit that there is one. As Paul Burka recently pointed out there’s a different feeling this session, but questions still remain, The State of Taxes.
Still, Perry is a man in search of a legacy, and he may put up a fight for the tax swap, though he was intentionally vague in his State of the State about how lawmakers should enact his suggestion for tax relief. But this should be a spending session, not a tax-relief session (Jim Pitts, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has already thrown cold water on Perry’s idea). The atmosphere in the Capitol is guardedly optimistic; there is a sense among members, at least those who have endured a string of dreary sessions, that they finally have a window to address some long-neglected needs. For one, the state’s fifty-year water plan remains unfunded; for another, the motor fuels tax for the Texas Department of Transportation can no longer keep pace with the demand for more and better roads. No doubt some fierce battles lie ahead over whether state leaders will allow budget writers to spend the state’s money, but the prospects of a surplus of more than $8 billion and up to $12 billion in the Rainy Day Fund provide the opportunity to shore up state services that have been starved in previous budget cycles. The question is, Will the state’s leaders finally take that chance? [Emphasis added]
The problem for our state’s “leaders” is that they’ve been telling us for so long that we have a spending problem, they have no answer when it becomes obvious that we don’t have a spending problem. We need water infrastructure, we need more highways, we need more spending on public and higher education, and health care. And there’s billions in taxpayer money sitting idle that could be used on the needs of our state. But we can’t spend it because we have to save it, and for what exactly no one knows?
The reality is it would be much cheaper to fix these things now instead of years down the road. It’s the pay me now, or pay me later argument. The Economist fleshes it out a little more. And puts the blame on Texas’ archaic way of budgeting, Too much of a good thing.
Then, too, there is the fact that the Texas legislature meets for 140 days every other year. In the 1960s, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 31 states had biennial sessions, but now only four do. The others changed, in part, because annual sessions allow them to respond more quickly to new federal laws or variable economic conditions. The result of holding out is that Texas legislators end up writing a two-year budget that takes effect months after the session ends and is based on projections about how flush consumers will feel almost three years down the road. Little surprise that they err on the side of caution. But an abundance of caution may have undesirable consequences, too.
We have a pressing need to raise taxes and spend money on the things we need. If lead properly most Texans would understand the need. They sit in traffic on a daily basis, they see the issues regarding water, and notice the cost of higher education is through the roof. And with real leadership could come to understand that more spending is needed. But it’s not very likely to happen the way our state is currently being run.
Our current leaders see the interest of business and corporations ahead of everything else. What’s holding Texas back from getting this done is ideology, plain and simple. Our state is being held captive by forces that believe we should never raise taxes and never spend money (except for corporate welfare), no matter the need. And that’s not rational and it’s bad for Texas.
Better late then never I guess. What state Sen. Kevin Eltife said yesterday many of us have been saying for years. Welcome aboard Senator, GOP state senator from East Texas promotes gas tax increase to fund transportation.
A Republican state senator is arguing forcefully for raising taxes to fund transportation, saying it would be more conservative to pay as you go with increased tax revenue than to go further into debt to complete road projects.
And Sen. Kevin Eltife of Tyler went a step further Monday during a panel discussion at the Texas Transportation Forum in Austin, adding that he’s not concerned about how such a stand might impact his re-election chances in typically anti-tax East Texas.
“It is what it is,” he said, earning loud applause from the crowd. “I was fine before I got this job. If they kick me out of office, I’ll be fine.”
Eltife’s unusual tactic – by Texas standards, at least – came as he discussed the state’s transportation funding challenges with three other state lawmakers: House Transportation Chairman Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman; Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock.
But Eltife, chairman of the Senate Administration Committee, blazed his own path by declaring that it would’ve been more conservative to raise taxes 10 years ago than to go billions of dollars into debt. He added that the state is in a transportation crisis because “we have maxed out the credit card.”
“There are times when taxes are the conservative thing to do,” he said.
Eltife said he would add a dime to the state’s 20-cents-a-gallon gas tax — which hasn’t been raised since 1991 — and then index it to inflation. He said he would also look to dedicate sales tax revenue on auto repairs to the highway fund.
When moderator Rodger Jones, a Dallas Morning News editorial writer, joked that tea party voters would likely remember that idea, Eltife didn’t blink. He said he’s explained the transportation funding problem to some of his tea party constituents and that they said they would rather have taxes than even more debt.
Again, it’s great that Sen. Eltife is saying this, but his sudden outspokenness likely has more to do with business groups in Texas finally getting tired of the neglect. That has made it safe for some members of the Texas GOP to say nice things about taxes. That’s what’s driving this recent change of heart more than anything.
The neglect is really starting to show. Whether it’s education, health care, water or transportation it’s really starting to build up. And the it’s not just working and middle class Texans that are noticing. It may be hurting business owners and corporations, the true constituents of The Lege. And if that’s the case taxes may be raised, but not on businesses and corporations, that’s for sure.
The reality is it has no chance of happening with our current governor and the partisan make up of The Lege.
From Texas Weekly we find out that the man that at one time was a Deputy Campaign Manager for Michelle Bachman’s presidential campaign is now trying to get the gas tax and user fees raised in Texas to pay for roads. Road Warriors Want Better PR.
“Water” and “roads” were the big buzzwords leading up to this legislative session. State leaders from Gov. Rick Perry on down went on record touting the importance of finding funding for water infrastructure and highway projects.
One month in to the session, water is right on track. There is widespread agreement on tapping the Rainy Day Fund to create a revolving fund to implement the state’s water plan.
Meanwhile, transportation advocates are worried that road funding reform remains as stalled as ever. So much so that Texas Future, a transportation-focused group that launched late last year, began airing a TV ad in Austin this week.
Here’s the link to Texas Future. A constitutional amendment to raise taxes and fees, again probably not likely in this state right now.
Yesterday TxDOT Executive Phil Wilson was in the Senate Transportation Committee pleading for money for transportation in Texas, TxDOT Director Calls for Stable Highway Funding System.
At the Senate Transportation Committee’s first meeting Wednesday morning, Davis said it’s important to strike a balance as they decide ”whether we’re going to create the revenue sources needed to provide the infrastructure that the state so desperately needs.”
TxDOT has accumulated almost $13 billion in debt since it first started borrowing from the general revenue fund in 2004, Wilson told senators earlier this month. Nine years later, it’s still paying off that debt.
TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said the agency needs at least $4 billion more each year to cover road expansion and upkeep. The proposed $20.8 billion budget would set aside just under $2.5 billion to repay debts, but caps the new construction budget at just over $1 billion.
“I think that really puts in perspective the situation that TxDOT finds itself in today, with an extremely large amount on the debt service side and a limited amount on the new construction side,” Davis told Wilson. “In my perspective we’ve really gotten upside-down in terms of providing the support for this agency that’s needed, and for you to conduct what we expect you to do.”
Gov. Rick Perry has proposed spending $3.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund on Texas transportation, but that would still come up short of Wilson’s request for TxDOT. Perry has suggested spending the money on building new highways and bringing old roads up to code for projects like Interstate 69.
Here are a couple of suggestions from the Transportation Committee chairs in The Lege.
Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, chairman of the House transportation committee, and Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, chairman of the Senate transportation committee have proposed a constitutional amendment to spend sale taxes collected on vehicle purchases for roads. That money is now dumped into general revenue and spread throughout the state budget.
Dedicating car sales taxes to roads could send billions to highway construction every year, Phillips said.
“If the Legislature does not find (road) money, this state will have massive transportation gridlock,” Phillips said.
House Speaker Joe Straus has said lawmakers may consider raising the $25 cost Texas driver pays to renew their license. Proposals to increase that fee by $8 filed in 2011.
As for getting money from the Economic Stabilization Fund, aka Rainy Day Fund (RDF), there are many things competing for that money – education and water are the big ones. Of course these needs did not just pop up, they’ve been around for a long time. What we haven’t had is leadership that’s willing to address them. The only way our state’s needs will be addressed in this session is if the wingnuts relent, Plenty of Money in State Coffers, but Not to Spend.
Two years ago, Texas lawmakers didn’t have enough money to spend. Now, it seems, they can’t spend all the money they have.
Now they’re fenced in by self-imposed spending caps, the need to fill some of the gaps in the current budget, and a school finance lawsuit that could require a multibillion-dollar remedy this year.
They’re allowed to break that law, but only by coaxing a majority of those tightfisted conservatives elected by voters who told them to shrink government.
The list of important programs and services begging for dollars — in 2011 and now — is about the same: education, health care, transportation and water, to name a few.
That puts an odd spin on the budget being written now, at a time when the state’s economy is pretty good. To those seeking support for particular programs or services, things haven’t changed.
The money is not there when the state’s fortunes are bad, and it is not there when the state’s fortunes are good.
With so much money in the RDF and so many serious needs for that money, we are again reminded of how the leadership of this state has been intentionally neglecting the needs of this state for some time. The reason these problems have been neglected is because of ideology. If the politicians running our state were concerned about what’s best for Texas, they would not be neglecting these serious issues.
Even though there’s plenty of money coming into the state, and billions in the RDF, only The Lege can authorize spending that money. And a state government that’s ideologically captive will not allow that money to be spent on the neglected needs of our state. We all know that the GOP in Texas has an aversion to “taxes”, but it looks like fees they are fine with. Of course that’s largely and distinction without a difference. While increasing some fees and ending diversions will add some money to transportation, it’s pretty clear it will not come close to adding the kind of money that Wilson says we need.
The ruling party in this state has been telling us for years that we don’t have a revenue problem in this state but that we have a spending problem. It should be obvious now that’s not the case. But they’re locked in an ideological box and when reality doesn’t match their ideology they don’t have a plan to get us out of it. The GOP’s ideological reliance on tax cuts to fix everything means they’re blind to all other remedies.
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