The Blog

How the Texas Legislature Stuck It to You This Time

There is not a credible economist out there who can say with a straight face that what the Texas economy needs is a business tax cut, so that's exactly what Rick Perry demanded.
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The thing about patting yourself on the back is that it makes it easy for someone to lift your wallet. Therein lies the danger of Texas legislators congratulating themselves too loudly after minding our money for 140 days. Thanks to a special session on redistricting, they're not getting out of town, but they're getting away with a lot.

Here's how the Texas legislature got you this year:

There is not a credible economist out there who can say with a straight face that what the Texas economy needs is a business tax cut, so that's exactly what Rick Perry demanded. Because the governor wields a veto pen like a pudgy North Korean dictator flings missiles into the air -- indiscriminately, inaccurately and to elicit fear -- the legislature gave him a $1 billion tax cut to appease him.

The business community, led by a lobbyist who looks like a larger and more bellicose version of Kim Jong-un, asked for the tax cut but says its big problem is public schools that don't turn out an educated workforce. The legislature restored almost as much to schools as it cut in 2011 unless you account for an exploding population. To keep pace with that, we'd need an extra $1.2 billion. Instead of giving that money to schools, Perry and the legislature just handed it to Texas businesses, cutting out 5 million little middlemen.

Texas utilities can still collect phantom taxes on your bills even if they don't owe the IRS any money. It used to be that the Public Utility Commission could force the utilities to refund that money to you. With SB 1364, the legislature fixed that problem. Now the PUC can't even get you a refund.

Another hidden fee on your power bill goes to the System Benefit Fund. That's supposed to help poor Texans pay their power bills when they crank the A/C to stay alive all summer. Until this year, though, the legislature just kept the money to balance its books. If we were really running state government like a business, this would be called embezzlement.

The legislature knew this could not continue, so now they'll just stop collecting the fee and use the $1-billion balance to pay the utility bills for poor Texans over three years. After that, the System Benefit Fund will be shuttered. Why is the Texas legislature killing a program to help working-class people? Texas Republicans killed the System Benefit Fund so they could call it a tax cut.

A big story during the session from KTRK-TV's Ted Oberg revealed taxpayers spent $8.2 million out of the Special Events Fund to buy the big scoreboard in Dallas' American Airlines Arena. The legislature promised to do something about it, but the GOP-led House killed a provision requiring audits of the state program. They argued that the media scrutiny would prevent abuses despite the fact that it hasn't yet.

Perry's not done with veto period yet, but he's already marked his territory. He vetoed the "Buy Texan, Buy American" bill. The bill, which passed the legislature with big, bi-partisan majorities, would have made the state buy Texas and American manufactured goods when they cost the same and are just as good. After the way his presidential campaign flamed out, I guess it makes sense that Perry hates America.

Perry also vetoed SB 346, the "Dark Money" bill that would have forced politically oriented non-profits to disclose their donors. "While regulation is necessary in the administration of Texas political finance laws, no regulation is tolerable that puts anyone's participation at risk or that can be used by any government, organization or individual to intimidate those who choose to participate in our process through financial means," said Perry in his veto message. Basically, he didn't want conservative rich guys to get teased. So not only is Perry anti-American, but his friends are apparently really sensitive.

Just as bad as what Perry and the legislature did is what they didn't. By not expanding Medicaid, Texans will be paying health care taxes to create jobs and insure poor people in other states. And once again, Texas remains one of the many states where you can still be fired for being a homosexual, something that's not even allowed by the Marines. Those hippies.

The worst thing you can do when playing poker or political fundraising is to leave money on the table, which perhaps explains why Perry is reportedly calling the legislature back into session. The rules are different in a special session, allowing the minority Democrats less power. Hold onto your wallets.