Government inaction may seem benign, but actually it is costing you, the Texas taxpayer, every day. While our state leaders boast of years of no new tax, their obstinate refusal to even discuss tax policy, or how it might be streamlined or made more efficient, is costing you money. Even worse, it is costing our state in a gross failure to meet the challenges of a modern world and economy.
Medical costs. The government doing nothing related to medical costs is one of the worst indicators of “do nothing” government — costing us all money. Today, the chief cause of bankruptcy among American citizens relates to medical costs. Studies done by AARP and other authoritative consumer watchdogs indicate the cost of medicine has more than doubled in the past seven years.
During the recent negotiations over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) there was a huge effort on the part of the advocates of this program to allow oversight and some control on the price of pharmaceuticals. Billy Touzin, a former congressman from Louisiana, led the fight against price controls on behalf of pharmaceutical corporations and won. Apparently, the pharmaceuticals agreed to a significant one-time reduction in the cost of drugs to Medicare and Medicaid recipients, but extracted a commitment which was ensconced in law that pharmaceutical companies would not be subject to negotiation with the government for the price of pharmaceuticals in these assistance programs.
So, we are saddled with the situation where pharmaceutical companies charge what they want to. Most of their charges are not based on supply and demand, but simply on availability and the fact that some super-sick Americans need the drug. Many conservatives argue medical supply in the United States should simply be covered by supply and demand. Unfortunately, free enterprise markets only work when buyer and seller can meet on an even plane. When it comes to medical care, and particularly drugs, the consumer is told “buy or die.” There is little or no negotiation over price. Congress would do well to stop moaning about the rising cost of Medicare and Social Security and concentrate on reigning in the gouging of Americans by the big medical supplier corporations.
Property taxes. The second area where most of us are being had through inaction is with regard to our property taxes in the state of Texas. A recent think-tank group which studied all of the states ranks Texas as the worst state for fair property taxes second only to New York. Another group examining Texas has reported debt in Texas has risen to the level of over $250 billion dollars.
All of this started at a time when Texas was fairly debt free and the rallying cry for politicians in Austin was “no new taxes.” As a result, Texas has not kept pace with a growing state — particularly related to public education. The state continues to shirk its duty of funding our public school systems, pushing off the burden on local districts which depend almost solely on the property tax. This hardship falls on old school districts which are losing school age population — which drives the amount of state support you can receive, and new districts which are growing so fast they cannot provide adequate facilities for their burgeoning new citizens.
The inaction by the state has resulted in several lawsuits claiming the Texas system of funding for education violates our own constitution. At least three times in recent history judges have ruled our education system is unconstitutional — particularly in the way it is supported. In the most recent lawsuit adventure, several hundred school districts joined together and sued the state claiming unfair and unconstitutional funding for public education. A district judge in Austin has ruled twice the system was unconstitutional. Rather than address the problem during the past two legislative sessions, the Legislature responded on one occasion by cutting an additional $5 billion from the education budget. Then they ignored the lawsuit and legal claim in the second session, kicking the can down the road and delaying as long as possible having the issue addressed by an all Republican Texas Supreme Court.
It is possible the court could conceivably affirm the ruling of the district court, but the court has little power to raise money to go into public education. The only method of enforcement the court has available is simply to shut down public education in Texas until the Legislature provides fair and adequate funding.
Gasoline tax. Likely, most citizens do not count the cost of sitting for hours idling their engines in overcrowded freeways. While under the leadership of Rick Perry, the state Legislature has stubbornly refused to consider even indexing the gasoline tax to keep pace with Texas’ rapidly growing population and transportation needs. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that automobiles today get significantly more mileage and therefore buy less gasoline and furnish less and less tax money to maintain our highways.
Texas has not addressed an increase in the gasoline tax since 1992 — even though it is lower than most other states of the union and fails woefully to provide adequate funding to maintain a first-class highway system. Our needs are growing; unfortunately, our wherewithal in the form of tax money to meet our needs is not. A recent engineering study found that at least 1,000 bridges in Texas are substandard. Hopefully, our Legislature will turn its attention to our highway needs before we have the tragedy of some bridge collapsing with a car full of teenagers in it.
While Governor Perry continued to condemn others for wanting to tax and spend, he launched into an even worse scenario to avoid having to face the possibility of a small increase in the gasoline tax. Governor Perry successfully proposed a bond issue to replace needed funds for our highways. He predicted boastfully that his policies would lead to such an economic boost in Texas that no new tax would be necessary — and that we would have plenty of money to take care of these needs.
Unfortunately, all Governor Perry’s program has left us with is a $30 billion debt, which we are struggling to pay along with the massive interest on it.
While the motto of no new taxes sounds great on the political stump, it is doing little or nothing to meet our needs for health, education, transportation, or even economic growth.