[This post has been revised since it was first published yesterday to reflect that the water bonds will not have to be paid for with general revenue. Since then, a reader has posted the fiscal note. It says that the bonds include both self-supporting and not self-supporting debt, and that the latter (which is paid for from general revenue) counts against the state’s 5% debt limit.] * * * * The answer is obvious, right? Of course we should vote for them. We’re in the middle of an historic drought. Well, I’m not so sure about this. Governor Perry and the legislature are up to their old tricks. We’re supposed to have a pay-as-you-go fiscal system, but that is just a fiction. In fact, we’re borr0w-as-we-go. We borrow to build highways. We have borrowed to buy “equipment.” We borrow to build college buildings with tuition revenue bonds, knowing that the tuition will not cover the cost of the bonds and they will have to be paid out of general revenue. As will the water bonds. The debt service will eat away at the meagre general revenue that our tax system produces. Can you imagine how much it is going to cost to pay the debt service on $6 billion in water bonds? The boosters are lining up behind Senate Joint Resolution 4, which will be proposition 2 on the November 8 ballot. In this case, the boosters are the H2O4Texas campaign, which they self-describe as “a newly created 501(c)4, nonprofit corporation – brought into existence to develop the Texans for Prop 2 Campaign, which will educate voters about the importance of passing Proposition 2 in November.”
The boosters tout a recent article featured in the San Antonio Express-News by State Representative Lyle Larson (R- San Antonio). The water boosters say, “In addition to stressing the importance of SJR 4, Rep. Larson said, ‘We’re on the right track and Texas is fortunate to have some of the world’s best and brightest working on this issue. We just need to get Texans engaged. While missing out on Independence Day fireworks or living with dead landscaping is the extent of most folks’ experience with drought today, if we continue to do nothing, ‘drought’ will mean something entirely different tomorrow. Texans must commit to preparing for the future and demand that their elected officials make water planning a top priority.””
I’m all for making water planning a top priority. I just want us to pay for it, fair and square, instead of borrowing it and pretending that it doesn’t cost anything. I would just like to see one politician — preferably, governor Perry–say that we are going to pay for something with revenue, not by going deeper into debt. (To repeat what I said above, the water bonds will not cause the state to go deeper into debt.) There were several proposals before the Legislature this session that would have paid for the water plan, including a tap fee, a bottled water assessment, and other ideas. Governor Perry could have done an enormous service for this state had he stepped forward and said that we must fund the water plan. He knows we have to have water projects to protect our state’s future. Everyone knows we have to do it. But it’s never going to get done, because the Lyle Larsons and the Rick Perrys want the people to think we can do it for “free” by going into debt. Then Perry can say, look, we never raise taxes. True. And we also don’t ever do anything about the water plan, even when we are stricken by drought. I’d vote for the damn things if anybody would ever say, This is so important that we have to raise the revenue to pay for it. But no one ever will, not while we are in the throes of the anti-tax gridlock — and certainly not Rick Perry. He has had ten years to do something about the water plan, to lead this state, and he has done nothing, except complain about the lack of federal aid. This is the problem with Perry. He is as clever a politician as Texas has ever had, but he is not a leader, not if it means raising revenue. And the public continues to think it is getting something for nothing. I voted against the transportation bonds several years ago, but I will vote for the water bonds, since they do not pose a risk to the state’s general revenue fund. The main point I want to make is that we need to practice sound fiscal policy and pay for the things we want instead of going into debt and eating away our general revenue. Again.