I have four things to say about this.
Borrowing a tactic from national anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, Gov. Rick Perry used a tax day appearance in Houston to propose a no-new-taxes pledge for Texas lawmakers, a pledge that would, in his words, “lead to a stronger Texas.”
Perry laid out a five-part Texas Budget Compact that, in addition to no new taxes, called for truth in budgeting, a constitutional limit on spending tied to the growth of population and inflation, preserving a strong Rainy Day Fund and cutting unnecessary and duplicative programs and agencies.
He also urged the continuation of the small-business exemption to the Texas franchise tax.
“Each and every member of the legislature or anyone aspiring to become a member of the legislature should sign on,” Perry said.
Jeff Moseley, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Houston Partnership, endorsed Perry’s compact.
“The pro-business policies and accountable and responsible budgets adopted by Gov. Perry and legislators have given Texas an enormous advantage when competing for high-paying jobs, and helped Houston prosper to become the top region for corporate relocations in the U.S. in two of the last five years, including in 2011, and these principles will keep us on that path,” he said.
1. Everybody recognizes this as a gimmick, right? I mean, there’s nothing new here, just the same old rhetoric wrapped up in a slightly different package. Beyond that, there’s no purpose to any of this. I mean, what exactly is the point of pouring money into the Rainy Day Fund? The original purpose of this fund was to provide economic stability in times of budgetary crisis, but apparently we’re not doing that any more. The Rainy Day Fund isn’t a trust that generates revenue for something; unless the Lege explicitly authorizes it, whatever goes into the Rainy Day Fund stays there. What’s the point of a fund that never gets used? We may as well convert it to cash and stuff it under a mattress. For that matter, we may as well rake it into a pile and make a bonfire. That’s more than we’re getting out of it now.
2. Putting it another way, politicians love to say that taxes are the people’s money. Well, sometimes the people want to spend their money on things they need. You know, like schools and roads and a statewide water plan, that sort of thing. How many schools and roads and reservoirs do you think we’d have now if we’d only spent money based on some arbitrary inflation-plus-population-growth formula over the past hundred years?
3. By signing on to this frivolity, the Greater Houston Partnership has officially declared that it is no longer a voice for reasoned public policy. From this point forward, whenever you see them advocate for something like education reform, you can safely ignore them because they’re not serious about it. Which is a shame, because we need more organizations that take these matters seriously, but that’s the path they’ve chosen.
4. As you might expect, Democrats have been loudly critical of this. My inbox is filled with statements from various legislators – Reps. Jessica Farrar, Garnet Coleman, Mike Villarreal, Sens. Jose Rodriguez, and Kirk Watson, for example. Which is good, and what they should be doing, but let’s be honest: Barring an even greater wave than what we saw in 2010, the fate of this piece of fluff is up to the Republicans. There are a number of incumbent Republicans who have carried a pro-public education banner in the past, and a number of Republican challengers who are running as the pro-public education alternative. As with the GHP, if any of these candidates sign on to this pledge, they are declaring that they don’t really mean it. (They can follow this example if they need to.) I sincerely hope that endorsing organizations whose missions are pro-public education realize that, or else we’re going to be right back where we were after the 2013 legislative session.