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Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is doubling down on his resolve to oppose further right-sizing of government, instead seeking new revenues (read: taxes) to fill government coffers in 2013. His policy pronouncements in El Paso, and reiterated in Fort Worth, dangerously pits the Republican caucus against Texas taxpayers going into the 2012 election season.

House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio)

As you will recall, Mr. Straus told the El Paso Times that “you can’t cut your way to prosperity.” That sounded a lot like President Obama’s comments earlier this year when he said “there’s been a real debate about where to invest and where to cut… but we can’t simply cut our way to prosperity.”

In yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman, Mr. Straus said he “doesn’t know yet whether Texas needs more tax revenue.”

For taxpayers, for small business owners, there is no question. As Ronald Reagan correctly put it: “Governments don’t reduce deficits by raising taxes on the people; governments reduce deficits by controlling spending and stimulating new wealth.”

In an interview with a Fort Worth Star Telegram reporter this week, Mr. Straus explained his El Paso comments by saying, “I made a terrible mistake. I was being candid and realistic.”

It is rare for a big-government Republican to admit in advance that future fiscally conservative comments he might make are merely political, while his fiscally irresponsible comments are “candid and realistic”. It is similarly rare for a big government Republican to say that honest comments were a “terrible mistake”.

Even a casual observer of state government can see that more systemic reform and spending restraint is needed. At the beginning of this past session, the Texas Conservative Coalition identified nearly $20 billion in budget reform savings — recommendations which fell on the mostly deaf ears of House leadership.

Mr. Straus’ inability, or unwillingness, to recognize this simple fact is disturbing for Reagan-conservatives. Simply put, there is much more to be done to make government smaller and more effective.

In his statements, the Speaker has staked out a new position for Republicans. Instead of cutting spending, Speaker Straus wants to tinker with the Gross Margins Tax – apparently to draw in more money – adding additional revenue to state coffers at the expense of the taxpayer.

(Not only do Mr. Straus’ views put GOP lawmakers at odds with taxpayers, but also the Republican Party Platform. The 2010 document calls on legislators to “reduce spending” and to “repeal” the Gross Margins Tax.)

Put frankly, this is a disastrous position to be taken by the Republican Speaker of the House. It flies in the face of sound economics and the Reagan-conservative philosophy. Raising taxes is simply a non-starter, politically and economically.

If a legislator is signed on with Speaker Straus’ leadership, voters are reasonably left to assume this “tax-don’t-cut” position is their policy position as well. It’s the single most important question of 2012 affecting 2013.

In light of this development, and because of the power of the Office of the Speaker in shaping policy, every single Republican legislator and candidate should be encouraged to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Right now, their speaker has them committed to raising taxes. Even if they signed the pledge in the past, now might be a good time to sign it again.

Our past practice at Texans for Fiscal Responsibility has been to automatically endorse for re-election those incumbents who scored well on the Fiscal Responsibility Index. However, this sudden anti-responsibility stance by the Speaker of the House has caused us to proceed more carefully in making endorsements.

Just as the speaker is doubling down on irresponsibility, we will take a more careful look at every legislator — regardless of their 2011 rating — before issuing any endorsements. We will only endorse and promote in 2012 those Reagan-conservatives who we know will boldly act on sound principles in 2013 and beyond.

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