As Texas, and Texas news junkies, spiral down into the 140 days of purgatory otherwise known as the 83rd Texas Legislative Session it's probably good to try and stake out some ground and examine what's really going on behind the pink-ish walls of the State Capital. In doing this you won't be surprised to find out that Republicans are acting like Republicans and Democrats are acting like Democrats, the former looking at the rosy revenue projections provided by the Comptroller and deciding that now is the time to look at reforming the terrible Business Margins Tax while the latter have decided that the only solution for the State that makes sense is spending every penny, raiding the Rainy Day Fund and spending all of it, and then "reforming" taxes so that they bring in even more money, which can then be spent on increased entitlements. With that said, there's nothing new there so it's probably not of much importance, although it does give an indication that the next budget will probably be a little bigger and will (hopefully) have something in place to revamp (or eliminate) the Margins tax while reforming Texas tax code in a way that doesn't place undue burden on any one group. I'm not holding my breath but that's the hope.
Unfortunately, Texas LockStep Political Media (TLsPM) has decided to fixate on the idea of reforming the business tax while downplaying Democratic efforts to tax "the rich" (Or, as we've seen in the Obama-led 'fiscal cliff' deal, to raise taxes on everyone). Now, as someone who's lived in an income tax state (Missouri) I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of a State Income Tax if it's established correctly (a flat tax would be best) and it it was offset with equal reductions in property taxes. I realize that Texas waves around it's no income tax status like a seventh flag, but the fact is that state income taxes can be written off when paying your federal income taxes up to a certain point. What Texas would have to ensure is that the tax rate doesn't exceed that point. The way I view it is like this: There's a good chance that the sales tax exemption in the federal tax code is going to go away. Currently I see no Democratic will to extend it. If we can't deduct the bulk of our State taxes from our Federal returns going forward I do see an argument where it makes sense for us to move to a system that does so.
I'm also very sympathetic to the counter-argument against state income taxes, perhaps even more so. The idea behind implementing a tax now is that the Republicans are in charge and would be more likely to implement something that would work. The problem with this idea is that, eventually, the Texas Democrats are going to regain power in Texas (all politics being cyclical) and will then have an income tax in place that they can proceed to make more progressive, and job killing. When viewed from this perspective I'm against a state income tax, and I believe this is the overriding principle for conservatives that must be followed. As such, I'm not in favor of any deal that creates an income tax for Texas, preferring to keep the state tax structure intact. However, I am in favor of a repeal of the horrible Business Margins Tax. Even IF the income tax could be constructed properly (which I doubt) it would not stay that way and therefore is not a workable solution. See: California.
Another issue that is, strangely, being pressed by those cloaking themselves under the conservative mantle is the abolition of the 2/3 majority rule in the State Senate. To my way of thinking this is short-sighted thinking of a non-conservative bent. The idea of the 2/3 rule in the Senate is simple: Make it harder to pass laws. What it's really meant to ensure is that only laws with fairly strong bipartisan support can make it through the chamber. If you're really a conservative, this is a good thing, and something that should not be trifled with on the whim of a Senator who's bound and determined to get his legislative priorities passed. If Sen. Dan Patrick wants to win passage of his priorities, then craft good, solid laws that pass muster with a super-majority. It really is that simple.
Beyond those issues, there are a host of funding priorities that are going to need to be addressed. From education funding, the lie of 'education cuts' seems to have topped out at $5.4 Billion dollars, I'm in favor of tying increased funding to reform, especially in the area of administrative pay. For all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that school districts made about fiscal Armageddon, we still have multi-million dollar stadiums and LED displays being built, and administrative pay far outstrips teacher pay. As it stands, I'm not sold on vouchers. I realize that they're tops on the conservative wish-list, but I just don't see them as being an effective tool for anything but stripping under-performing school districts of funding. Your mileage may vary on that, I'm still not sold but am willing to listen to arguments. Any argument must start with a convincing case that the amount of the vouchers could cover full tuition in a private school. Anything less blunts the argument of allowing poor students to escape under-performing public schools and enrolling in private institutions.
Something needs to be done about CPRIT, the State's anti-cancer slush-fund. For all of Gov. Rick Perry's conservative bona-fides (and there are many) his moth-to-a-flame attraction to crony capitalism ($$) is a concern. I'm unsure if the health care market, with it's insistence on curing symptoms in favor of attacking cause, is the right place to handle cancer funding, but I'm sure it's better than providing grants to political cronies.
Finally, there is a Democratic bill that I like, and it pertains to ending the practice of double-dipping. That a conservative did not author this bill should be of concern to conservatives. It just goes to show that even bills authored for purely partisan reasons can be worthy of support. I'd also like to see casino gambling get an up or down vote by the people, and I'd like to see an end to Blue Laws and Texas' three-tiered alcohol distribution system. On those however I'm a realist. I'd like to make a Million dollars per year writing a blog but I realize that has just about the same chance of happening as most of the things I've listed here.
So bring on the 83rd Lege, and let's see what they have in store for us this time around.