On whichever side of the Rick vs. Kay (or is it Kay vs. Rick?) divide you stand, it’s Texas’ taxpayers who may benefit most from the jousting. Both have strongly endorsed, indeed made centerpieces of, taxpayer protection and relief.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has been critical of the state’s “Gross Margins Tax” on business, calling it “a tragic mistake” in her campaign announcement tour.

Gov. Rick Perry is championing a proposal that would prevent any tax increase from taking effect until it has been approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of Texas voters.

Both are, rhetorically at least, fed up with the state’s unsustainably high property tax burden. (The other declared Republican candidate, Debra Medina, says on her website that she wants to abolish the property tax.)

Hutchison signed the Americans for Tax Reform “taxpayer protection pledge” back in 1994. Perry will be signing the “governor version” at a press event on Thursday. That version says the signer “will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.” Hutchison has apparently not yet signed it as a gubernatorial candidate.

The problem Perry has run into, and Hutchison will if elected, is that ultimately property taxes are set by local government. The system needs a wholesale reform, something the legislature has been unwilling to do.

Lowering the property tax rate — as happened with the 2006 imposition of the Gross Margins Tax — had little effect on the property tax burdens because appraisals continued their upward march while schools (half to two-thirds of the property tax bill) continued to hike spending without pause.

Reforming, limiting, vetoing and opposing taxes is well and good and necessary. But truly controlling tax burdens only occurs when spending is restrained and the Legislature is willing to participate.

In 2003, the newly-minted Republican-controlled Legislature heeded the governor’s call to confront a $10 billion budget shortfall using zero-based budgeting, systemic reductions in spending, and wholesale reform of the agencies. But at the end of the day, it is the Legislature which determines taxes and controls spending, not any governor.

Despite public opposition and good sense, the Senate earlier this year overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to hike gasoline taxes and fees to fund unaccountable spending shielded from transparency. The effort was narrowly defeated in the House.

In both chambers of the Legislature, there were incessant calls to take even more federal “stimulus” dollars and spend through the $9 billion rainy day fund. Perry and a band of right-thinking legislators stopped those actions… this time. We need to rid the House and Senate of those who think so little of spending so much.

A Texas governor — Perry, Hutchison, Medina, whoever — will set the tone on taxes and spending through the policy tune they sing. But for the practical concert of taxpayer protection to reach the ears (and wallets) of Texans, we must elect a House and Senate willing to lead the chorus.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, and a dog. Check out his podcast, Reflections on Life and Liberty.

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