Sand in their ears

There is a big difference between practicing ideology and governing effectively, a difference being played out daily in the drama over unionbusting initiated by the goofus governor of Wisconsin.

Closer to home, the Tea Party advisors to the Texas Legislature also are persisting in putting ideology over political sanity, and even the most conservative lawmakers had better think twice before heeding their advice.

According to an item in Jason Embry’s column in today’s Austin AmericanStatesman, the Legislature’s Tea Party Caucus Advisory Committee is urging legislators to not only oppose raising taxes or fees (no surprise there) but also to refuse to spend any of the state’s $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund to help plug a revenue hole as deep as $27 billion.

The Tea Party Caucus, according to Embry, includes about a third of the House and two senators.

The citizen advisors – 13 Tea Party organizers from around the state acknowledge that the alternatives include “largerthandesired cuts in public education,” but they claim that spending the Rainy Day Fund now would amount to “burying our heads in the sand” about the state’s budgetary future. They say that the Rainy Day Fund should be set aside, instead, for coverage of hurricanes, floods or terrorist attacks and for a financial buffer to allow the state to maintain a high bond rating.

These people already have their heads buried in the sand, so deeply they may never emerge.

For starters, a credit analyst for no less a fiscally conservative organization than Standard & Poor’s, the major bond rating agency, has recommended both “revenue enhancements” and spending cuts as the preferred, balanced approach to digging out of Texas’ financial crisis.

Secondly, a big chunk – about $10 billion – of the $27 billion shortfall is a structural deficit in the school finance system, brought about by the 2006 school finance law, which won’t go away if it is ignored this session.

And, a growing number of parents and other voters around the state are demanding that the Legislature spend at least part of the Rainy Day Fund to avoid stuffing kids into overcrowded classrooms and closing neighborhood schools, which is what will happen if the shortfall is met with budget cuts alone.

In case you don’t know by now, TSTA believes the Legislature should spend all $9.4 billion in the Rainy Day account, close outdated tax exemptions and raise new revenue to minimize cuts to education and other critical public services.

Rep. John Zerwas, a conservative Republican who is the point man for health and human services on the House Appropriations Committee, also knows how important health care and education are to millions of Texans and says he is ready to spend as much as $8 billion of the Rainy Day Fund.

As he noted in an interview with The Texas Tribune the other day, he dare not go home after passing a budget with drastic cuts, if the Legislature also leaves most of the Rainy Day money in the bank.

Were that to happen, he said, “I’m going to get a spanking.”

Zerwas has a sense of political self preservation, which means he is trying to govern, not simply pontificate.


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