It’s frustrating at times being a Democrat in Texas. One reason is that issues of significance rarely get discussed rationally. I didn’t watch the US Senate debate last week between Democrat Paul Sadler and Republican Ted Cruz, but judging from what’s been reported, (blogs, MSM, Twitter, etc..), the main takeaways were that it was between disgraceful and over the top.
But one thing that came out of the debate, which always seems to, is the Democrat having to apologize for, somewhere in their political career,wanting to make Texas a more fair state. Sadler, early in his political career before it became a scarlet letter “T”, made sane arguments for studying and possibly implementing a statewide property or income tax to pay for public education and make taxes more fair in Texas. Blasphemer!!
A Nov. 24, 1992, commentary by Dave McNeely of the Austin American-Statesman opens: “It’s against the grain of the conventional political wisdom in Texas. Many consider it political suicide. But freshman state Rep. Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, is advocating an income tax to fund public schools. Openly.”
Sadler had studied education funding, the column says, and concluded that a broad-based statewide tax was needed as an alternative to plans, like the system ultimately passed into law, to transfer property-tax revenue gathered in some school districts to other districts.
McNeely quoted Sadler as saying he favored the merger of some school districts, using incentives, and the creation of a statewide funding source, “either a statewide property tax or a state income tax, which is the fairest of all methods, because it puts everyone in the scheme.”
The column also quotes Sadler as saying the income tax would have to be sold to voters via a statewide TV blitz buttressed by lawmaker discussions with constituents and educators — to “tell them ‘this is what we’re doing, this is why, and this is where we want to go with education, and this is how it will benefit you.’”
“If you do that, you could educate the public,” Sadler said. “We’ve not tried to do that, and so what you get from the constituency oftentimes is a knee-jerk reaction: ‘No, I don’t want an income tax’ — even though they don’t fully understand the relief they’ll get from local property taxes and other taxes.
“And it is the fear of an income tax, from a legislator’s standpoint, and having to face an opponent that will beat you over the head with that, that keeps most legislators from speaking out and saying what we all know is true,” Sadler said.
What is left out above from the 1992 commentary is that this was being discussed as an alternative to recapture, what we know now as “Robin Hood”. A totally rational and sane argument for fixing public school finance in Texas – which is still broken and a statewide property tax is again being discussed – that is now seen as radical and a disqualifying stance for public office. This was way before the 2006 GOP tax swap scheme that created an annual $5 billion structural shortfall and, n o matter how the GOP tries to spin it, before they cut $5 billion from public education in 2011.
What I don’t understand is why, when confronted by these types of things, Democrats cower instead of fighting. Instead saying something like:
You’re damn right I supported implementing a solution that would have fixed our disastrous public school finance system once and for all. We wouldn’t be facing another court challenge as we speak. Working Texans overall tax burdens would be significantly lower than they are now, as would property taxes, if we would have instituted a truly progressive state income tax 20 years ago.
Either way Sadler has little chance of getting to the US Senate. But it would be better for Democrats in the long run, if statewide Democrats would start espousing distinctly different policies from the GOP. GOP state Sen. Robert Duncan recently proposed a constitutional amendment creating a state property tax to pay for public schools.
It’s the same on many fronts. Transportation, everyone knows our transportation infrastructure in Texas is woefully underfunded and is costing us more doing nothing than paying a few more pennies per gallon would to fix it. See (The cost of neglect keeps rising, Forgotten Mission: Texas’ trickle-down transportation policy, and My afternoon at the Texas Tribune Festival). And the latest study on the subject here, Study: Inadequate Roads Cost Texans Billions.
Issues including traffic congestion, damage to vehicles from roads needing repair and costs incurred in accidents caused by insufficient safety features on roadways cost drivers in Texas $23 billion annually, according to a study released Tuesday by a national transportation research group.
“Texas has fallen behind in relieving traffic congestion on its major roadways and maintaining pavement conditions on these roads,” said Frank Moretti, director of Policy and Research at TRIP, the group that conducted the study.
The study suggests the condition of Texas roads could be costing individual motorists as much as $2,000 a year.
It also says the condition of Texas roads will worsen without increased funding, a difficult prospect given the state’s budget challenges. Pavement quality, for instance, is projected to decrease 30 percent statewide over the next decade given current funding. A recent study conducted by Texas A&M University and cited in the TRIP study suggests traffic congestion, which can cost motorists as much as 38 hours a year in urban areas, is likely to double statewide in the next decade.
Moretti said much of the increased use of Texas roadways is business-related.
“The tremendous energy boom being experienced in Texas, while great for the state, is putting a great amount of strain on Texas roadways.” According to TRIP’s study, addressing this increasing use will cost $2 billion annually.
And this is unlikely to change anytime soon.
“They [TRIP] still don’t address the main issue,” [State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who sits on the House Transportation Committee] said, “and that’s how we’re going to pay for it.” Pickett says that the lack of public awareness and an unwillingness to take some politically unpopular actions are the main reasons for funding shortfalls.
“The average Texan is paying $3 less a year in gas tax than they were in 1991,” he says, noting that few politicians would want to raise the tax when gas prices are so high. Pickett says he doesn’t expect the upcoming Legislature to solve the problem. “The Legislature is going to continue to kick the can down the road on this.”
While there are many issues that Democrats need to work on, the one that cuts to the core is that they no longer champion government as force that can make a difference in the people’s daily lives. As FDR put it, “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” It should not surprise anyone that far too many people have now begun to believe hat the government can no longer help them – conservatives have been repeating that lie for decades. Millions are helped by government every day. Because too many believe that lie, and see government as the enemy, the Democratic party is struggling to get to anywhere in Texas.
If a statewide income and/or income tax was “the fairest of all methods” back in 1992 it likely still is today, (see the best choice for a prosperous Texas). Too many of us have come to believe that the government can no longer help us. That is sad and untrue. The government, as we all should know, is a reflection of us as a people. If it has become cold, unfeeling, and unhelpful then we can all just look in the mirror to see what we have allowed our government to become. Democrats won’t win in Texas until they can show voters in this state that the government is on their side and can make a positive difference in their lives.