If there were ever a time for conservatives in the Texas House to act boldly in achieving good, common-sense public policy, now is it.
We sit at the apex of two great historic tides in the Lone Star State. First, we have an electorate that in November responded to specific, conservative messages – and voted accordingly. And, second, there is an opportunity brought on by the national recession to make fundamental reforms to the way government functions. Make no mistake, voters overwhelmingly support the ideas of limited government and less spending, while having a strong aversion to higher taxes.
But now that the legislative session has begun, the all-too common signs of coming timidity are rising among lawmakers who two months ago were rightly pumping the air with clenched fists like victorious warriors.
It hasn’t happened yet, but around the Capitol one can sense the tone shifting subtly from confident enthusiasm to nervous apprehension. The ability to move definitively on accomplishing legislative initiatives – like protecting property owners, fixing the gross margins tax, and even securing our elections – seem to have become hamstrung by doubt as well.
Candidates espousing a liberty-focused agenda were elected to lead. They have been presented with ample challenges and opportunities for which to apply decisive and principled conservative solutions. But some seem ready to fall back into the minority-party state of playing for compromise.
Old habits die hard.
This legislative session demands new habits be developed, and fast. When you have a super-majority, the point at which you are willing to compromise is the wrong place to begin negotiations. For example, while many very good pieces of legislation have been filed in an effort to permanently reform the state’s business tax and protect small businesses, others amount to little more than half-hearted half measures.
Two years ago, when the Texas House had a 76-74 partisan split, the liberal Democrat chairing the Texas House Ways and Means Committee refused to even grant hearings on making small business tax protections permanent. Instead he pushed a two-year exemption that expires later this year.
In this economic and political climate, permanent tax relief for small business should be a foregone conclusion. Texans understand small businesses are the state’s top employers, and that low taxes are the fundamental reason businesses – especially start-ups – get rolling.
Temporary tax relief is a marginally acceptable place to wind up when you are in the minority. It’s not the place to start when you are in the majority.
Similarly, we’re seeing some start to waiver on the need to balance the budget through spending reform. They’re hoping to instead tap the state’s rainy day fund, expecting it will stave off the vocal minority of big-government advocates.
Too bad it won’t. The big-government leviathan’s hunger for more and more money is never satiated.
Whether at home or at the Capitol, it’s irresponsible to begin discussions on how to balance a budget by drawing down your savings account before squeezing every efficiency possible out of your spending. But too many conversations are starting there.
Fortunately, Texas Gov. Rick Perry threw cold water on that rationale by declaring in his State of the State Address that it is a “bad idea” to use the “savings account to pay for recurring expenses.”
Texans are tossing even colder water on tax and spending squeamishness. In a recent poll we conducted, 76 percent of voters indicated they are “more likely” to vote for a budget cutter. Meanwhile, 74 percent of Texans are “less likely” to support someone who raises taxes. Overwhelming majorities held these views among Republicans and Democrats alike.
The Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute recently identified more than $20 billion in budget savings – prudent spending reductions that ensure the core functions of state government are fully funded.
This legislative session represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for right-thinking activists and legislators to promote good public policy, trim government fat, and reform agencies. Boldness is a political prerequisite for doing what is right. And Texans are telling lawmakers to go for it.
Andrew Kerr is the Executive Director of Empower Texans / Texans for Fiscal Responsibility
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