As I have written before, there are two, and only two, things which the Texas Legislature must accomplish during the current regular session: Adopt a balanced budget which is constitutionally required in Texas and Congressional redistricting to accommodate the four new House seats Texas gains because of the 2010 Census. It must accomplish them by the end of May when the regular session of the legislature must adjourn sine die as required by the state constitution.
I might add a third “must do,” or rather a “must not do.” It must not do anything which would result in expensive lawsuits. If they muff many things in the budget–like school funding, mental health funding, Medicaid funding, prison funding–there will lawsuits. And if they muff redistricting by gerrymanders to reduce Black and Hispanic representation or to ensure disproportionate Republican representation, there will be lawsuits. There are other, unnecessary acts, actions which will result in litigation: Voter ID, restrictions on abortion and various attempts to deal with illegal immigration.
Curiously, the legislature is dealing, not with their Must Do List, but rather with all sorts of unnecessary proposals which will widen the gap which must be closed in the state budget.
For example, voter ID. Now to give that a chance to pass judicial muster, it must provide free photo IDs to those who, for any reason, do not have a government issued photo ID (e.g., drivers license, passport). The is, of course, no such thing as a “free photo ID.” That “free photo ID” will be paid for by someone–namely the State of Texas. It creates something that will increase state expenditures. It is also likely that the legislation will result in lawsuits. It is discriminatory. And it is problematic. For example, we septuagenarians are exempt from the requirement. But since septuagenarians are more likely to vote Republican, it discriminates against younger voters who are more likely to vote Democratic. Furthermore, unless the state creates thousands of “substations” where photo IDs are made (adding greatly to the cost) it becomes discriminatory against the poor, disabled and elderly who would have difficulty getting to the places were such IDs are currently made–for a fee.
Currently winding through the legislature is an emergency bill to require women seeking an abortion to have a sonogram. Don’t get me wrong; I am pro-life; but this is bad legislation. Once again, who pays for this? The woman? If so, it is discriminatory because it would limit the ability of poor women to get abortions. And that will entangle the state in expensive lawsuits which compound the budget problem. If the state pays for it, well that also compounds the budget problem.
There are numerous bills under consideration which would in one way or another involve the state and local governments in enforcing laws against illegal immigrants. They will increase law enforcement costs at both the state and local level. (And local governments have their own budget crises. It will increase court costs, jail costs and prison costs. It also could have a negative effect on revenues, particularly if enforcement should actually target employers in an effective way.
In many ways the legislature (and governor) seem to be ignoring the elephant in the room–namely an estimated $25 billion gap between projected expenditures and revenues over the next biennium. And, following the GOP and Tea Party mantra, of “no new (or increased) taxes” and “cut baby, cut” They are about to entangle the state in even more costly activities.
School finance. Currently they are talking about cutting funding for public education by $5 billion. That will probably also meet constitutional challenges. It may or may not be constitutionally discriminatory–something that has plagued Texas school finance for decades. But it surely will not meet the state constitutional requirement that the state provide an “efficient” system of public education. It will also result in something like 100,000 unemployed teachers and other school employees. That will result in increased state unemployment costs and reduced state revenues as those unemployed people cut back their spending. (The state sales tax is the primary source of state revenue–after federal grants.) And unemployment has an economic ripple effect; lost business results in layoffs and businesses closing.
They plan to cut mental health services. That will probably result in lost jobs and an increase in the prison population–and the costs associated with law enforcement, prosecution and court trials to put the mentally ill that tangles with the law in prison. It could also result in more lawsuits.
They plan to cut nursing home payments. That will result in lost jobs as nursing homes close. I’m not sure what happens to the poor in those homes; it may be the final stage in the Republican Health Care Plan in action–die quickly.
We could go on and on with this analysis. But it is too painful.
Oh, you might ask what does not seem to face the budget act in Austin. Well, there’s the governor’s slush funds with which he pays off his major campaign contributors in the guise of “creating jobs.” There’s the $10,000 a month governor’s house–he’s living there ever since someone torched the Governor’s Mansion while the Texas Rangers slept and can seem to figure out who did it. There are the costs of the governor’s travels to promote his “national image” at right wing nut rallies and meetings. The costs of these trips to the state treasury are Top Secret for “security reasons.” While the legislature is talking about cuts of 17% to state programs that benefit Texans, the House has agreed to cut its expenses by 10% and the Senate by a whopping 5%. What is not being cut are the expenses of all those lawsuits the Attorney General is waging against the federal government.
There may be increases in fees–e.g., automobile registration fees. There is even some timid talk of raising the gasoline tax a bit to fix deteriorating state roads and bridges. Taboo are increases in the state franchise tax or the sales tax. Also taboo is any new tax–read, a state income tax. Nor are we going to close any loopholes in the state franchise tax.
Oh, yes. We believe that the federal government must cut spending in major ways. By the way, please send us billions in federal money. And under no circumstance should there be any restrictions on how we use that money.
By the way, Texas is sitting on an $8 billion dollar “rainy day fund.” It isn’t raining, so that must not be touched.
And there you have the priorities of the Texas governor, legislature, GOP and Tea Party.