I seldom find myself in agreement with the tea party, but they are dead right in their skepticism of debt. This is why you can make the argument that Rick Perry is not a true conservative. He won’t raise taxes, but he doesn’t mind going deep into debt–and retiring debt is about the most expensive thing government can do. His proposal to capitalize $41 billion in debt to build roads is rash. Our grandchildren will be paying to retire the bonds in the 103rd Legislature.
The problem with the tea party is that it doesn’t want the government to do anything. Raise taxes? Hell no. Raise vehicle registration fees? No, no, a thousand times no. We might as well go back to 1948 and reprise the campaign to “get the farmer out of the mud.” It is disingenuous for tea party leaders to say, “Any vote that adds debt to this state – any vote for any program that’s going to be leveraging debt or adding debt — will be considered by the tea parties of Texas as a vote for a tax increase.” It’s the absolutionist attitude of the tea party that drives me crazy. I have to say, though, it is quite delicious to see Rick Perry get a taste of his own medicine.
I would urge state leaders to put together a blue ribbon panel on the issue of how we should finance state government. The classic model of government finance is the “three-legged stool”: a combination of sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes. Trouble is, in Texas, one of those legs is missing, and I doubt that it will ever be “found.” What Texas does have that most other states lack is severance taxes on oil and gas. But relying on severance taxes is not a good long-term strategy because the price of oil is volatile. Back in 1986, oil fell below $10 a barrel. What I think Texas needs to do is protect the revenue stream of its most important tax, the sales tax. This can be achieved by raising the sales tax in small increments over time. The same could be done for the gasoline tax. The idea is not for the state to get a windfall. The idea is to ensure that the revenue stream is protected, that when the economy tanks, as it will eventually do, the state has the flexibility to raise the rate.
One thing that such a panel should tackle is tax exemptions. The biggest of these is the ag tax break. I certainly support ag tax breaks for individual landowners who make their living from the land. But the ag tax break should not be available to major corporations who get a break from running cattle on their land.