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.