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Is Texas Becoming Washington, D.C.?

January 7, 2013

As Commissioner of the General Land Office I have a constitutional and fiduciary responsibility to both the school children and to the taxpayers of Texas. It is a responsibility I take very seriously. It is a responsibility I wish others would share.

Last week’s vote on the so-called “Americans Taxpayer Protection Act” highlights all that is wrong with the priorities of Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, it also brings into focus all that is wrong with our priorities here in Texas.

The similarities are scary.

At a time when the fiscal cliff threatened the financial security of this nation, our nation’s leaders have demonstrated they are incapable of hearing the frustrations of average Americans. Were it not for the absurd level of spending we would not be having a conversation about tax rates.

And while I fault the President and his liberal supporters in Congress to a large degree, much of the blame also lies at the feet of Republicans.

As frustrating as it was to watch the debate, the talking heads, the political posturing, and the blame game prior to the vote – it became almost intolerable after the vote when the details of the legislation became known.

Aside from the fact that most Americans who work for a living will see a rise in their taxes, we also unfortunately see millions of dollars in tax breaks that do nothing to help hard working, average Americans who struggle every day to balance their own budgets.

It is almost like our elected leaders are living in an alternative universe – wholly disassociated from the reality of Main Street.

Just some of the goodies handed out last week by Congress and the President include:

  • Continuing tax breaks to build racetracks for the likes of NASCAR and F1 – in 2009 this cost taxpayers $43 Million dollars.
  • Over $400 Million in tax breaks for Hollywood producers and movie makers – just as those same movie stars cry for an end to gun violence we give them our tax dollars so they can make more of the violent, fantasy-filled films which may be most responsible for the culture of violence prevalent today.
  • Is Bacardi your beverage or do you prefer Capt. Morgan and the Pirates of Puerto Rico? Well guess what – Congress voted yesterday to continue a tax subsidy likely to be in excess of $500 Million a year that goes to Puerto Rico to support their Rum industry. Makes you wonder why Jack Daniels isn’t screaming bloody murder. It will sure make you want to drink.
  • And this is just the beginning. The tax breaks in yesterday’s legislation totals approximately $77 BILLION.

So if all of this drives you crazy I suggest you take in a NASCAR race or a movie and enjoy a little rum and coke – it will make it all seem a little less painful.

Now you might ask what does this possibly have to do with Texas – the Holy Grail of Red States? The answer is sad but unfortunately true. We do the exact same thing in Texas.

As the Texas Legislature convenes next week our state faces challenges of monumental importance. Our system of financing public education will in all likelihood be thrown out by the Courts, compounding the consequences of the over $4 Billion in cuts made to public schools in the last legislative session.

We still have not recovered from a devastating drought nor done anything to fund a statewide comprehensive water plan to protect from the next drought.

Our system of funding transportation is broke. Millions of people continue to move to Texas for the hope of our economic prosperity but we can’t manage to move our own people around. The costs of traffic congestion are staggering – higher fuel, greater pollution, lost productivity and the constant stress of sitting in a traffic jam. Yet Comptroller Susan Combs unlawfully commits to giving away $250 million for an F1 racetrack that will not address any of these problems.

And then, importantly, we have the challenges of providing a safety net for those among us who cannot provide for themselves.

But these challenges will remain until and unless we are honest in our priorities, in our tax policies and in our spending.

Republicans in Washington lost what little moral high ground they held with this atrocious vote. It is very difficult to push for meaningful entitlement reform on one hand while the other is handing out our hard earned dollars to Hollywood and NASCAR. It is pointless to have a debate over raising the debt ceiling when we give billions of dollars away in corporate welfare.

Republicans in Texas are dangerously close to the same situation, yet many are working artfully to conceal it.

In my role as Commissioner of the General Land Office, we earn income from our state lands and in turn invest some of those dollars, to generate even greater returns. Those dollars in turn are provided to the State Board of Education (SBOE) where they are spent on educating our most valuable asset – the school children of Texas. It is a success story of which I am immensely proud. It is a record built on trust and transparency. No gimmicks. No sleight of hand.

As this Legislature convenes I intend to point out the inequities and the stupidity of a system, which is headed down the path of becoming like Washington, D.C. A system of cronyism, of picking winners and losers within the business community, and of budget gimmickry that allows our elected officials to say they balanced our state budget when in fact, they did nothing of the kind.

If we are to maintain the moral high ground and face the challenges of the future, Republicans – and specifically conservatives – must right the course. I care deeply about this State, its people and our heritage. With honest leadership it is a history and heritage of which our children can be proud and a legacy upon which they can build.