The biggest lie told by Austin politicians is that Texas has a policy of no new tax. As I recall, the no new tax mantra began with the governorship of Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde, Texas. This was in the early 70's, and it appears to have taken hold as the mantra of every new Texas politician. Unfortunately, it is the big lie propagated on voting citizens of this state and has been for many years.
The United States Supreme Court recently held that Congress has the right to tax and thereby held, as a matter of law, that the Affordable Care Act was justified based on Congress’ constitutional right to levy taxes. This certainly squares with my opinion that anytime the government extracts money from its citizens it is, in fact, a tax. To alter the old saying that a rose by any other name smells as sweet, I would say that a tax by any other name smells as bad.
A simple examination of actions by the Legislature to keep the state’s coffers filled with money would reveal the truth of my allegation that the popular motto of no new taxes is a big lie. Any inquiry into the truth of this statement needs to begin with an examination of property taxes--taxes on your home and your business. During the time Texas’ government went through the trauma of adopting, for the first time, a sales tax, Texas property owner's taxes went from near the bottom of all 50 states to the top 10. Additionally, considering the cost of living in your own home, Texans consider as a hidden tax homeowners’ insurance. A recent study demonstrated that Texas is among the top 2 or 3 states in the nation in the cost of homeowners’ insurance.
Although our gasoline tax has not increased, Texans should be mindful of a new tax in the form of costs to drive on roads built with our tax dollars. Governor Perry proceeded to form a partnership between Omega Building Corporation in San Antonio and a Spanish-owned company granting them exclusive rights to much of our highway right-of-way. The amount of tolls Texans have to pay to drive on roads that we built is now partly in the hands of a foreign country.
Laws cooked up by special interest lobbyists and imposed on Texans are another form of tax burden borne by Texans. To begin with, for years there has been a give-a-way of $25 million in tax breaks to big oil. At a time when many homeowners are struggling to pay their school and city taxes, big oil companies which operate out of Texas benefit from the largesse of Texas’ taxpayers while enjoying the highest profits in history.
College tuition at one time was regulated and set by the Legislature and in the early 50's one could go a full year of college paying only $50 a semester in tuition fees. In the early 1970s, the state still paid approximately 85% of the cost of higher education. However, while maintaining their poker face denial, legislators then and now have contended they favored and implemented no new taxes, but they relinquished the setting of college tuition to individual boards of regents. Thereafter, tuition has increased a hundred-fold--today, for example, the estimated undergraduate flat-rate tuition and fees for 2013-14 for a Texas resident attending UTAustin is approximately $5,000 a semester.
Daily activities have borne the burden of taxes in the form of assessments or fees. Deregulation of electrical utilities, for example, has generally caused a huge increase in the cost of your electric bill. Hunting and fishing licenses, and access to state parks, have more than doubled in the past 40 years; and the Legislature has imposed a surcharge on traffic fines which has hit a substantial number of Texas’ drivers.
There are other hidden costs which land on us Texans because of our stingy social policy. The lack of adequate protection for industrial workers has resulted in Texas leading the nation in workers killed in industrial endeavors in this state. Health care is another area of a hidden tax imposed by the fact that, because Texas is avoiding its responsibility to help with health care, we have more uninsured Texans than any other state. This has resulted in exorbitant costs passed on to us by hospitals which have to absorb costs of uninsured and indigent people who seek and receive treatment at the emergency rooms throughout this state. The inordinately high number of teenage pregnancies and the fact that Texas leads the nation in minimum wage workers also contribute hidden costs picked up by us, the taxpayers, in the form of prison costs, welfare costs, aid to dependent children and school dropouts.
I will say once again–while no new taxes may be a great political motto for those seeking public office–someone needs to address whether new taxes would be better than some of the unfair old taxes. It is past time that we Texans and our Texas’ government take an in-depth look at a rational plan for raising revenue to meet Texas' needs. Failure to do so will continue the non-fiscal policy of this state, lurching from crisis to crisis.