Common Sense, Not Higher Taxes, Is the Answer
By Senator Craig Estes
Have you ever gone grocery shopping when you're hungry? It is generally not a good idea. When you're walking up and down those aisles on an empty stomach with all that food, you tend to make some poor choices, and you are more likely to make impulsive purchases. In the end, you may feed your hunger at the expense of your pocket book.
Similarly, with a $9.9 billion budget shortfall, the State is hungry for revenue, and some people are recommending that the Legislature raise current taxes or impose new taxes to make up the difference. And, of course, that old Golden Calf of taxation, a state income tax, is at the top of some lists. There is no question that our current tax system is in need of reform whether it be the sales tax or the property tax. However, one thing is also clear. When people are in fear of losing their jobs and the economy is struggling to recover, the last thing we need to do is raise taxes. That is a recipe for disaster.
Proponents of increasing taxes argue that Texas ranks 43rd among the states in overall individual tax burden. Their argument of course is that Texans can afford higher taxes and implies that it is unfair that people in 42 other states pay more in taxes. However, my question is how do those seven states have a lower tax burden and how can Texas become 50th in taxation? Taxes are a necessary function of government. Liberty does come with a price. However, Texans should not be concerned with ways to increase the tax burden, but should seek solutions that lower taxes and spend money more efficiently and prudently.
Since higher taxes are not the solution, then what is the solution?
The best course of action is a comprehensive review of the budget with organized, sensible budget priorities. Some agencies may be asked to do with less, while some agencies may get more money depending on our state's needs. Some sacrifices may be needed to balance the budget and get our state through the next two years. At that time, if the economy is in recovery and the budget shortfall eliminated, then we can sit down and seriously address the issue of tax reform. Serious tax reform can only be accomplished without the pressures of budget shortfalls.
Dealing with the budget shortfall without increasing taxes requires a common-sense solution. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor and House Speaker have all indicated that they will use zero-based budgeting to address our spending priorities and our spending limitations. Zero-based budgeting starts the budget process off from scratch and requires each agency to justify every budget item.
In the past, state government did not start from scratch every time legislators decided how to spend the public's money. The budget process used a system called baseline budgeting. What this means is that you take the last budget, accept the current spending levels and then add more spending to the budget. Imagine if you did that at home. Take all your bills from last year and spread them out on your kitchen table. Then, take your checkbook and assume that every bill on that table is going to be increased this year and now try to make ends meet. That is not very realistic, and it is not fiscally sound.
Make no mistake: the decisions will be difficult. With budget priorities including education, transportation and health care, hard choices will need to be made. When asked, most Texans agree that spending cuts, not tax increases, should be the choice for balancing the budget. I happen to agree. However, will Texans still favor spending cuts if those cuts affect programs close to home? That is the question that remains to be answered, and I would welcome comments from the people of Senate District 30 on this issue.
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