How far can you stretch $19 billion? As The New York Times reported this week, that is how much money that Texas, under Gov. Rick Perry, doles out a year in welfare, the most of any state. No, this is not the kind of welfare that helps the neediest Texans stay alive. Texas’ stingy tradition is still intact for the people who need help the most.
I am speaking here of the corporate variety of welfare, the kind that helps tax-hating entrepreneurs flourish and further enriches already wealthy investors and CEOs. There’s nothing wrong with free enterprise, folks. I am all for it, but when our tax dollars start subsidizing free enterprise to the tune of $19 billion a year, the free enterprise express has jumped the track.
In case you haven’t read it, The Times story about tax incentives and outright handouts of tax dollars to private businesses is linked below. Gov. Perry repeatedly has argued that the purpose of corporate welfare – although he doesn’t use that term — is job creation and economic growth. Businesses promise to create jobs in a state or local community and threaten to take those jobs elsewhere if government officials don’t sweeten the pot.
In many local communities, well-practiced CEOs are dealing with turnip-truck amateurs who are afraid to call their bluff as communities get played against one another for jobs that may or may not be created. In Perry’s case, companies are dealing with a governor who often rewards his political contributors. As The Times story also points out, many jobs are low-wage, pay no benefits and have done little to reduce the state’s poverty. Some jobs are high-paying, but they may have been created without government handouts anyway.
But what if we taxpayers suddenly had that $19 billion back? What could we do with it? A lot of things, all more important to the state’s future than lining corporate pockets.
For starters, let’s take $5.4 billion off the top to restore the funding that the governor and the legislative majority slashed from the public education budget last year. That would enable school districts to restore the 25,000 school jobs, including almost 11,000 teaching positions, which were lost. And, we still would have $13.6 billion left.
We could give each of Texas’ 300,000 teachers a $2,000 pay raise, leaving us with $13 billion. Then, we could cover the part of the Medicaid budget that the Legislature put on a credit card last session, and we still would have $7 billion or more, enough to build new schools, some highways, do something about our water needs and/or expand health care coverage. Despite all the corporate handouts, Texas still leads the nation in the percentage of people without health insurance.
Not all the $19 billion in giveaways came out of the state budget. Much of it came from local governments. But I hope you get the idea. Texas’ leaders, beginning with the governor, are in sore need of rearranging their priorities.