The Republican House members who voted for House Bill 1, a budget plan that would practically dismantle public education and destroy Texas’ already weak safety net for the poor, offer the mealymouthed political excuse that state government needs to “live within its means.” They deliberately are being disingenuous. (I say Republican House members because no Democrats voted for the bill.)
State government does need to live within its means, but the problem with using that as an excuse for abdicating a legislator’s responsibility is that state government’s means is entirely up to the governor and the Legislature. Slashing and burning important state services – as House Bill 1 would do – is a political decision, not a fiscal necessity.
Texas legislators have a vast amount of potential resources at their disposal, beginning with the $6.2 billion remaining in the Rainy Day Fund, which Gov. Perry has declared “untouchable,” strictly for political reasons, and which was left unspent on HB1.
And, there are numerous options for increasing tax revenue, which the governor and House leadership also refused to consider, even though most options would have only minimal effect on the pocketbooks of the vast majority of Texas taxpayers.
Even without creating new taxes, there are multiple billions worth of exemptions to existing taxes, mainly the sales tax and business margins tax, which can be reviewed, and I am not talking about taxing groceries or prescription drugs.
The Senate is looking for additional revenue, and senators eventually will replace House Bill 1 with a budget that attempts to soften some of the House cuts. But news reports indicate that the Senate Finance Committee is still looking at unacceptable cuts of $3 billion to $4 billion in the public education budget.
The fight for a responsible budget is uphill, folks, but it isn’t over yet.