Two stories today highlight issues that I believe will be long-term problems for the GOP here in Texas. First off is this one in which a state House subcommittee rejected a bill that would have imposed a lower cap on property tax appraisals.
The bill replaced a similar bill authored by state Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, that would have lowered the cap to 5 percent on homestead appraisals only. [State Rep. Dwayne] Bohac's bill lowered or set a cap on homestead, commercial and apartment property.
Currently, property appraisals on homesteads and apartments can increase by as much as 10 percent each year. There is no cap on businesses.
The problem here for the GOP is that the supporters of this measure are, shall we say, rather zealous about it:
Bohac and others believe that confrontational and vitriolic criticism from supporters of Wong's bill offended some committee members at a March 13 hearing.
"There were hurt feelings, and it was hard for some on this committee to overcome those hurt feelings," Bohac said, "and that's a shame, because taxpayers lose because they couldn't get over personal issues."
About 100 Houstonians stormed out of the March 13 hearing after waiting seven hours to testify. Some in the group shouted down committee Chairman Fred Hill, R-Richardson, and accused the committee of siding with lobbyists and business interests.
At the hearing, Houston radio talk show host Dan Patrick likened committee members to "money changers" and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said the county was on the verge of a tax revolt.
"When public officials will do nothing to help ease the tax burden of citizens that are being overtaxed, then they better be ready for protest, because if they thought that was a protest, they haven't seen anything yet," Patrick said Monday.
"She does not deserve to be seated in office if she is going to put her personal feelings in front of what is in the best interest of Texas," Patrick said of Laubenberg. "She should be ashamed of herself."
Bettencourt believes the assertion that feelings were hurt was a smoke screen. He said Laubenberg's questions on other legislation reflect a basic philosophical difference on tax relief.
He said he cannot explain why she would not follow the lead of House Speaker Tom Craddick, her committee chairman or the Republican Party on tax relief.
"It's an emotional vote against your core principles, what your party believes in. It's a very strong vote against your base," Bettencourt said. "It would be a grave mistake for anyone to go and vote against their core beliefs.
"She's a lightning rod now for tax relief."
What makes this even more amusing is the pitchfork brigade's charge that the House committee was under the spell of "lobbyists" and "business interests". Well, duh! This is the Texas GOP we're talking about! Of course, one would normally expect "lobbyists" and "business interests" to favor a property tax appraisal cap. After all, this bill would have imposed a cap on commercial property appraisals, so why wouldn't business support it? Logic and rationality are not the strong suits here.
The other story features state GOP chair Sarah Weddington defending her party from charges that they're heartless and uncaring, despite their relentless push for a budget that would deny health care and other services to thousands of sick, elderly, and other needy folks.
In a conference phone call with members of the State Republican Executive Committee, Weddington urged party leaders and grass-roots supporters to encourage Republican lawmakers to hang tough in the face of criticism from Democrats and many newspaper editorial writers.
She said Democrats, during the budgetary debate, have attempted to "make Republicans look like heartless, cruel, mean, ugly people who just want people to die, want people to be thrown out of nursing homes, and that is not the case."
"The fact of the matter is that we want a new philosophy, a new policy toward spending that helps those that really need help, and they have no other options," she added.
"We want to cease and desist helping those who have other options but choose to use government because it's cheaper and it's more convenient. You know, the Democrats want to create a government-funded middle class, and we've got to have the courage to take the hits so that we do what's right by the people of Texas."
But never mind that. Let's compare Weddington's statement about how Democrats are making the Republicans look like a bunch of meanies with this statement from her second in command:
David Barton, the party's vice chairman, added that it is important for Republican leaders to warn lawmakers not to "get bent out of shape over (allegations) you're killing elderly people by starving them, or whatever."