Hunting sacred cows

If there’s one item on the budget fix to-do list for which there is fairly broad agreement, at least in principle, it’s the idea that the existing tax code ought to be examined to see what things are being exempted from it that maybe shouldn’t be. That includes some things – mostly services, but some goods – for which the sales tax does not apply.

At mid morning, Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, held up a palm to plastic and reconstructive surgeon Bryan Pruitt of Dallas, who was about to tell the House Ways and Means Committee how applying sales tax to cosmetic surgery is just a completely, absolutely unworkable and privacy-smashing idea.

Among other things, the panel today is on its third round of looking at tax exemptions, as directed by Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

Pointing to 24 categories of services excluded from the sales tax that are being discussed today, Oliveira cautioned audience members not to read too much into that.

“Just because your particular exemption or exclusion is on the list doesn’t mean that myself or staff or any member of this committee has decided anything one way or another,” he said.

There’s a lot of interesting data in that post, so check it out. Broadly speaking, while I strongly oppose any sales tax increase, which is an incredibly regressive way method of taxation, I am okay with an expansion of the sales tax to some of the items on Rep. Oliveira’s list. That would include elective surgery and tanning salon services (!), whose exception can only be explained by having a really good lobbyist. These things will not be remotely enough to close the looming budget gap, or even to make a serious dent in the structural deficit, but they’re worth doing and would help make some other choices a little less painful. I’ll be very interested to see what this committee recommends.

Oliveira admitted to me, though, that he’s seriously considering filing a bill next session that would close some exemptions and “put some people in a box” — presumably meaning some of his colleagues who complain about spending but never about a sort of spending no one talks about, tax breaks for special interests. The prissy word for that is “tax expenditures.”

All I can say to that is “Go for it!”

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