February 15, 2011
The easiest thing in state government is the free lunch. Politicians love the cheap and easy promise of something for nothing. Unfortunately, the “something” is almost never free, and the “nothing” is too often what you end up with.
A great example of this was the effort in 2006 to cut property taxes across the state and replace the lost revenue with a new business tax. The so-called property tax relief cost Texas about $14 billion in every two-year budget (even with many Texans wondering why their tax bills are still so high). And the new business tax, also known as the Margins Tax, has been a disaster – failing to live up even to its own inadequate projections.
The resulting gap between revenues and costs has created a recurring hole – estimated to be as much as $10 billion deep – that still plagues Texas’ budget.
My bill will crack down on this sort of reckless, something-for-nothing governance and block those who try to score these fleeting political points. It will require the state to declare – openly and honestly – what functions and necessities would be eliminated to make up for revenue that legislators reduce.
It will create a process similar to that for fiscal notes, which declare how much a bill costs. In this case, whenever budget officials determine that bills will result in the state losing money, they’ll have to declare how much would be lost, what that money is used for, and how the loss will affect the basic necessities that Texans rely on.
This bill wouldn’t make it any tougher to cut the budget. Indeed, the state will have to cut the budget and run as lean as possible to make it out of this current fiscal crisis.
But the state also needs to be smart. And those in control of the budget have to end the denial that you can cut revenue without affecting the things that revenue pays for. If you want the headlines for cutting revenue, you should have to do the harder work of cutting spending at the same time.