Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Fundamental Change

One thing that most Texans understand as this legislative session goes down in history, excluding Rep. Mike Krusee of course, is that it was not a success. Those running our state government were unable to fix their own self-described number one goal: school finance reform and property tax reform. With Republicans controlling everything in this state and agreeing that this is our number-one problem, why were they unable to resolve the problem? It's because our state needs fundamental change and our current leaders can't bring it about.

It's because most Texans have a tendency to forget that Texas has the “5th most regressive state and local tax system of the 50 states” – regressive meaning the less you earn the higher your tax rate. For example, if you make $20,000/year, a 6.75% sales tax will take a bigger percentage of your income than someone who makes $50,000/year; a sales tax, therefore, is a regressive tax. If Texans were aware that the tax burden in this state falls overwhelmingly on the poor and middle class, I believe we would be in a completely different situation than we are today. Texans would understand that in order to have the kind of school system that we need, those who have more need to take on more responsibility.

Another reason there wasn't a deal is because the Republicans can 't “tweak” or “skew” the current regressive tax structure anymore toward the “have-nots” and away from the “haves” and get away with it. The Republicans have not faced up to this fact publicly yet. Like I've said before, the only way out of this is to tax people who have money and that would be a fundamental change to the tax structure of this state.

Another fundamental concern is tax fairness. Should taxes be fair? You will hear conservatives talk about tax fairness all the time. But they sure don't seem to mind when taxes are unfairly skewed toward the poor and middle classes.

Along the lines of fairness is a another fundamental concept: Do you believe that those with more should pay more taxes than those with less? I say yes. This is not just some Democrat wanting to soak the rich. This is rooted in Christian scripture, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Luke 12:48). I am not one who often quotes the Bible, but in this instance it seems a fitting way to illuminate hypocrisy, especially with what the Governor has been up to lately. When you have a bunch of people on the right who are supposedly steeped in Christian moral values, yet who do everything they can to avoid paying taxes, thereby forcing those with less than they have to pay more, it's just wrong--and wrong in light of the Scripture which they so willingly quote. Fair taxation should be a fundamental change in the state of Texas.

One more fundamental concept which everyone agrees on is that a well-educated population is not only a good a moral thing to have on hand, but it is a good investment. With Texas being ranked 50th in high school graduation rate and 48th in SAT scores, it shows we are not investing wisely. Now, picture yourself as a business owner, thinking of relocating. I'm sure one criteria you would have is to find a state that could provide an educated workforce for your business. I can't see how anyone would look at those numbers above and put Texas very high on their list. Eventually, to fix this problem a more progressive, fair tax structure, where more is asked of those who have more, will need to be implemented to bring about a better education system in Texas. It is a wise investment for our state and will pay off in the long run. Despite what Rep. Kent Grusendorf says, a well-funded and well-run education system in Texas would be a fundamental change.

There are two Policy Pages from the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) that lay this argument out very well. The first one, Who Pays Texas Taxes?, explains how regressive the tax structure in Texas already is. It goes on to show that a tax shift--the lowering of a less regressive tax (property tax) for the raising of a more regressive tax (sales tax)--which was the legislature's plan, will only put the burden more on the poor and middle classes. The other Policy Page deals with what the effects of the Senate version of HB 3 would have been. It concludes that "80% of Texas families would see an increase in total taxes as a result of CSHB 3", and only those who make over $177,773/year would see any lowering of their taxes. That was the proposed fix for the property tax burden on Texans? Does that seem as ridiculous to you as it does to me? Don't be fooled: that is a fundamental problem with the current leadership of this state.

The last fundamental question on this topic for today is: what are the alternatives? Yes, believe it or not, there are alternatives. I will write about those soon. But as I looked over this information and began understanding why a one-party, Republican-dominated state government couldn't fix a problem that they all agreed was a problem, it lead me to one unmistakable conclusion again and again. The only way to truly fix this problem is to change who is running our state government. That, I am convinced, would be the best fundamental change for our state.


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