February 18, 2003
Goodhair nips heresy in the bud

Some pesky Republicans in the Lege have been straying off the ranch lately, calling for an expansion of the state sales tax so that drastic cuts in the education allotment can be avoided:

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the state should expand the sales tax to services, the fastest growing sector in the state's economy and accounting for billions in untapped revenue.

"The current school system is being funded today on the backs of the local property tax payers. We can no longer continue to do so," Shapiro, Senate Education Committee chairwoman, told educators rallying at the Capitol for increased public education funding.

"I would propose an alternative tax structure by expanding the sales tax base to include the service industry and the exemptions," she said before the crowd of about 300 teachers, parents, students and other supporters.

Shapiro said she would not remove sales tax exemptions for food and medicine, which she conceded account for the lion's share of an estimated $26 billion in sales tax exemptions.

Governor Goodhair, bless his stout heart and singleminded devotion to dogma, is having none of it:

"As I have said on numerous occasions, this is not the time to be talking about raising revenues. I'm focused on the spending side first and foremost," Perry said Monday after speaking to the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas.

He has asked lawmakers facing a $10 billion budget shortfall to build a state budget from zero and set priorities without exceeding the $54.1 billion in state money available for the next two years.

That means cuts of about 12.5 percent over the current budget, which totals $114 billion when you add in federal and other funds.

"I think we've got to stay focused on the spending side. Once you take your eye off of the focus of spending and start talking about revenues there seems to be a historical pattern of people losing their resolve to pare the budget down to where it needs to be," Perry said.

Let's review again where the budget currently is:

Category .. Rank

Overall spending per capita .. 50

Mental health .. 47

Cash welfare .. 48

Corrections .. 17

Highways .. 42

Public health .. 45

Parks and Recreation .. 48

State employee wages .. 50

Education .. 37

Public welfare and Medicaid .. 46

We have hit rock bottom (which is to say, worse than Mississippi) and we have started to dig. We have gone long past the point of trimming fat from the budget, and have begun to trim ears, fingers, and internal organs.

Given that we'll make Barbra Streisand the permanent Queen of the Cotton Bowl Parade before we adopt a state income tax, I'll reluctantly endorse Shapiro's idea. At least it still exempts food from the sales tax (unlike Talmadge Heflin's proposal), which alleviates the burden it would put on poor folks. I don't know what it's going to take to make our idiot Governor realize that both sides of the budget equation need examining, but he'd better figure it out quickly.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 18, 2003 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

Wait, so we're supposed to judge ourselves relative to other states based on state spending? That's not a good standard, in my view.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on February 18, 2003 9:02 PM

I'm simply saying that all of the statements about the budget being "out of control" are overblown. Texas is not now and has never been a big-spending state.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 19, 2003 6:49 AM

And may it ever be so. Let's see some numbers about what's spent where. I don't care particularly what anyone else is spending, especially that per-capita BS. Let's see real dollars, where they're coming from and what they're being spent on.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on February 19, 2003 10:13 PM