The top priorities of state government, at least in Texas, are education, medical care for children, medical care for the elderly and poor, highways and law enforcement.
The no new tax strategy in place in Texas since the early 90's is not serving us well. Education in Texas has suffered, along with taxpayers, as a result of our state leadership’s aversion to even discussing taxes. One of the biggest pieces of evidence of how Texans have been hurt was the recent reduction in funding of education by $5.4 billion dollars. This cut, to avoid even discussing taxes, cost us the loss of thousands of teachers, creation of crowded classrooms for our children, and the second worst scores on college entrance exams by Texans in a decade. Tuition, paid by students and their parents in Texas, has more than tripled in the last few years preventing many talented Texans from reaching their potential.
Obstinacy in the health care field is costing Texas taxpayers in many ways. A prime example of how ignoring health care in Texas costs taxpayers can be demonstrated by the effects of diabetes. An aggressive program of examination, recognition and care could have many years ago saved Texas untold millions. Ignoring the effects of diabetes alone has caused taxpayers to pay for blindness, amputations, and kidney dialysis to the point that the cost for these items has more than quadrupled in the past two decades. To make matters worse, our governor has caused us to leave billions for health care on the table, probably only to burnish his credentials as a leading conservative on which to run for governor. The use of emergency rooms by uninsured poor continues to drive up our hospital costs.
Before Republicans took the helm of our ship of state under its control, Texas had highways among the best in the nation and no debt. Now, about two decades later, under the no new tax mantra, Texas has highway infrastructure which can’t be maintained, bridges that are in danger of falling, Texans wasting millions if not billions sitting in traffic jams throughout the state and about $30 billion in debt. Adding insult to injury, Texas now has hundreds of miles of highways for which Texans must pay to travel while foreign corporations reap financial rewards for the Texas toll roads brought about by no new taxes. The proposed proposition on the ballot will help, but it is about like putting a band aid on a bleeding artery.
Even law enforcement has taken the hickey because of our legislature’s desperate attempts to avoid the subject of taxes and yet make provision for essential services of state government. At one time, retired state troopers had an adequately funded retirement by the use of the funds earned by placing a new kind of sticker on your windshield. Those funds now have been swallowed up by the general fund, leaving inadequate retirement benefits for many of our state law enforcement.
We should remember lessons of history. I remember a time when tuberculosis was epidemic in the United States. At that time the subject of tuberculosis could not be discussed in polite company. The word was taboo just as any discussion of taxes is now taboo for Texas politicians. Tuberculosis was only conquered once it was brought from the shadows for a reasonable and rational discussion. The same problem persists in Texas. No new taxes has become such a mantra for some segments of our population that we can’t even talk about taxes during election time. It seems that so long as you stick taxpayers without calling it a tax, it’s okay. There have been increases in almost every fee that exists in our state from hunting licenses to court costs.
By ignoring the state’s responsibility to form an efficient system of public education, our legislature has pushed off on homeowners and business owners higher and higher property taxes. Our property tax has gone from near the bottom in the 1960's to second from the top today. We are faced with a court decision that our system of funding public education is unconstitutional, and we lead the nation in citizens without adequate medical insurance.
Essential services cannot be delivered without tax support. It is about time in Texas we had a frank public discussion about what type of tax would serve Texas best. As I have said before, while no new taxes may be a great political slogan, it says nothing about the bad old taxes that don't work anymore.