On Tuesday, the celebration and promotion of Texas’ “Big Three” raising Texans’ tax burden to help fund their bloated budget and wild-eyed spending spree came to a close with an outright rejection of their proposed “fix.”
Led by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) and other conservatives, the legislature defeated a “tax swap” proposal by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen to raise the state’s sales tax and use the dollars raised for lowering property taxes.
But with the sales tax increase face down in the water, Texans still want—and deserve—property tax relief. Grassroots leaders and conservative lawmakers should refocus their vision for the remainder of the session and draw a road map for limiting government.
The budget, though already in conference after differing versions passed both chambers, is not a done deal. There is still time to cut taxes, prioritize spending, and shrink government in the 86th Legislature, returning the state to the kind of governance lawmakers have exercised in the previous two sessions.
A bill has been filed in sessions past—and has been filed again this session—that would limit the spending of the state to exactly that. Senate Bill 1891, authored by State Sen. Kelly Hancock (R–North Richland Hills), passed the Texas Senate almost exactly one month ago with the support of every Republican state senator and Democrat State. Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (McAllen).
Referred to the Texas House Committee on Appropriations two days later, the bill has since received the cold shoulder from House leadership and languished on the desk of the committee’s chair, State Rep. John Zerwas (R–Richmond).
Both the supplemental budget and the proposed budget for the next biennium currently exceed the spending of the Conservative Texas Budget, a limitation that keeps spending increases confined to the state’s growth in population and the rate of inflation. Lawmakers have currently decided to spend most of the state’s nearly $10 billion surplus rather than redirecting those dollars back to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts or buying down property taxes through rate compression.
This is in contrast to Republican legislatures in other states.
Tennessee continues to use Republican majorities and the conservative leadership of Gov. Bill Lee to work towards reducing or eliminating taxes with their surplus. Alabama, Georgia, and Florida are leading the charge on conservative reforms as well, protecting life and the right to self-defense.
Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan also points out the leadership of Nebraska’s governor, who is in a similar situation to the one Abbott found himself in this session:
“Nebraska’s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, is blasting state senators there who want to increase the state’s sales tax for the purpose of reducing the property tax. Ricketts wants to cap property tax increases by local government in his state at 3 percent and use state dollars to buy down local property taxes as well.
All without raising taxes!
“As senators work on tax policy, you will sometimes hear them talk about ‘raising revenue’ to make changes to our tax laws. This is politician code for raising your taxes, and I will oppose such efforts.” – Gov. Pete Ricketts
Republican leaders in Texas still have time to follow suit and ditch their “lead from behind” approach to governing. They can ensure Texas lives up to the state’s reputation as a leader for red and purple states to follow by providing transparent, accountable governance for taxpayers.
Abbott, Patrick, and Bonnen—in addition to the overwhelming majority of Republican lawmakers in the state capitol— campaigned as conservatives when asking for your vote in March and in November, year in and year out.
Isn’t it time they started acting like conservatives?
Conservatives believe in tax cuts, not raising the amount of money they take from taxpayers’ wallets. Conservatives believe in reducing spending, not doubling down on existing expenditures that are too frequently subject to waste, fraud, and abuse. Conservatives believe in shrinking the size, role, and scope of government, not inflating its authority or incentivizing its intrusiveness.
With bills like Hancock’s still on the table and time left on the clock to right the course of the ship, lawmakers in Austin have as good an opportunity as ever to honor their promises and govern as they ran. If even a small group of leaders would capitalize on the defeat of an egregious tax increase, then capture the momentum and exercise leadership by correcting the trajectory, the narrative of a squandered session could be rewritten into a record that Republicans can be proud to run on in 2020.
A conservative Texas budget and a cap on the future spending of the Lone Star State are natural next steps to doing exactly that.
The people of Texas deserve nothing less.