Monday, December 27, 2010


With the impending session of the Texas Legislature, there is a great deal of conversation about sacrifice.  One of our statewide leaders recently said the people of Texas are going to have to “tighten their belts” in order for the state to survive the coming session with no new taxes.  The big question that comes to mind, “Who will be sacrificing?” or “Who will be sacrificed?” as a result of the hole of 25 billion plus Texas finds itself in. I doubt any measurable personal sacrifice will be found among our state’s top leaders.  

Our governor has become a multi-millionaire since coming to the Legislature as a West Texas poor boy, and he is currently living in a rented, multi-million dollar mansion at the state’s expense.  Our lieutenant governor is one of the wealthiest people of the state; and our speaker of the House is the son of an old-money family from San Antonio.  I seriously doubt that any sacrifices on their part will compare to those felt by the average, middle-income Texan; and certainly will not compare to the sacrifices felt by the poorest Texans.

If you work for a living, you are the one whose belt will most likely be tightened the most.  Even worse, all of the sacrifice won’t be yours.  The future of your children and grandchildren will be sacrificed on the altar of short-sighted, no-vision, no-new-taxes at-any-cost philosophy.

Since the early 1960's, Texas has launched a program of contributing less and less to the greater needs of public education, pushing off the responsibility on local school districts and local property owners.  The attention to quality education in Texas began its decline in the late 1960's until the Legislature, in an act of courage, passed in the 1970’s, the Education Reform Act. The Perot Committee traveled far and wide studying not only education systems in the United States, but throughout the world; and made a set of recommendations, many of which were incorporated into Texas law.

The evaluation of teachers was improved.  Attention to classroom work and learning was brought a step closer to parity with extracurricular activities through “No Pass, No Play.”  Research clearly indicated that children in the early grades did much better with a teacher/pupil ratio of 15:1.  As a major compromise, mainly to accommodate spending less money, 22:1 was adopted rather than 15:1.  Even though the 22:1 teacher/pupil ratio was not ideal, it was a substantial improvement to the 30 to 35:1 teacher/pupil ratio which existed at the time throughout the state.  

Already, leadership of the Texas Legislature is saying one way to help meet the deficit is by abolishing the requirement of a 22:1 teacher/pupil ratio.

Higher education is yet another area being mentioned as a source for slashing our state’s budget.  At a time when India, China and other developing nations are emphasizing education and training their young for high-tech jobs in a vibrant, growing economy, Texas, apparently without vision, is talking about making it harder and harder for middle class and poor children to obtain a quality higher education–a wrongheaded policy which will not serve us well in future international competition for the high-paying jobs.  

This lack of vision on the part of the leadership of Texas will condemn our state to continue to lead the nation in the number of minimum wage jobs of any state in the union.  It will also mean higher tuition for those struggling to educate themselves.

Our “no new tax” policy, even to the extent of indexing our tax which provides maintenance of our roads, bridges and highways to maintain the same level of support, is causing us to suffer with crumbling bridges and pothole filled state highways.  The current solution, apparently on the part of many of our leaders, is simply to give away our highway right-of-ways to foreign corporations to create toll roads and suck more Texas dollars out of our state.

Although many of our legislators boast of never voting for a new tax, each session for the past 10 years, they have blindly voted for increased fees on everything which carries a fee in Texas, including hunting and fishing licenses, admissions to state parks and renewal of almost every kind of license imaginable.  Call it a fee, if you will.  It is in fact nothing more than a thinly disguised tax.

The “no new tax” mantra which so pervades conservative thought in Texas brings with it a consequence, possibly unintended, which forestalls any conversation about tax reform.  Simply because a tax is new does not necessarily mean it would better serve the people of Texas and be more efficient or fairer than many of the old taxes.  In all probability, special interest groups who have an unwarranted tax break because of the old structure are among those who shout the loudest about no new taxes.  I doubt very seriously giving multi-million dollar country clubs an agricultural exemption from their property taxes serves us well.

Many of the newly elected members of the Texas Legislature, who have never served in an elected office, paint themselves as deeply devoted Christians.  Some have even suggested the Legislature is so bent toward Christianity they would not favor allowing a Jewish speaker to preside over it.  

I am struck by a quote from the book entitled, God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, in which he wrote, “You can tell whether or not an officeholder is truly Christian by looking at his budget.”  Time will tell in the very near future as to the level of Good Will -- Christian or otherwise -- of our Legislature.

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