Still spreading the “free lunch” myth

Several polls have indicated recently that many Texans believe the Legislature can and should cut spending to dig itself out of a $27 billion budget hole. But strong majorities don’t want to cut education or health care.

As Frances Deviney, Texas’ KIDS COUNT director for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, pointed out at a breakfast presentation today: “Nobody wants to cut anything. They just like the concept of cuts.”

People obviously believe that there are huge pork barrels filled with wasted spending scattered throughout the state budget.

You can always find waste somewhere, depending on your definition of waste. I, for one, believe the Texas Enterprise Fund, which allows the governor to provide corporate welfare to businesses that don’t need it, is a form of wasteful spending.

But except for the most conservative, antigovernment types, most legislative budgetwriters know there isn’t enough real waste in state government to come anywhere close to closing the huge revenue shortfall they now confront. They know that without spending the Rainy Day Fund and finding new revenue, harmful cuts to education and health care will have to be made.

So, why do many Texans not believe them?

For years, political candidates and officeholders have been barraging Texans and other American voters with pronouncements against “excessive red tape” and campaign promises to “cut government waste.” In so doing, they have reinforced a public misperception that there is such a thing as a “free lunch,” that government can provide topnotch public schools and provide a safety net for the poor and infirm without anyone having to dig too deeply into their pockets to pay for them.

Gov. Rick Perry has been a champion of the “free lunch” myth. But he has been governor for more than 10 years, and since 2003 his fellow Republicans have been in charge of the Legislature.

So, if there were still a lot of wasted spending in Texas government, whose fault would that be?

No, the tons of waste aren’t there, just a bunch of political mythspreaders.


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