Friday, May 27, 2011

Texas’ Wild Tea Party

The Nation - Villarreal and his Democratic colleagues [in the Texas House of Representatives] protested in vain [in early April] as the House passed perhaps the most radical state budget bill in US history.

[The Texas Legislature — which Molly Ivins aptly called “the national laboratory for bad government” — infused with Tea Party zeal to eliminate government after the 2010 election,] voted to balance the ledger without raising revenues, axing $23 billion from current spending levels—about one-fourth of the state’s current spending, and some of the deepest cuts contemplated anywhere in the country.

Spending cuts to public schools, already among the nation’s most poorly funded, could mean some 100,000 teacher layoffs, pre-K programs decimated and schools closed. Huge cuts to Medicaid could push an estimated 60,000 senior citizens out of their nursing homes. “We’re already as a state fiftieth in per capita spending,” said another young San Antonio Democrat, Representative Joaquin Castro. “So you’ve got to ask yourself…at what point is this budget akin to asking an anorexic person to lose more weight?”

The fiscal crisis caught most Texans unawares. For the better part of a decade, they’d had their collective egos puffed up by BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, The Economist and CNBC proclaiming Texas as the economic miracle of the nation. Governor Rick Perry, a friend and disciple of Grover Norquist, had just won re-election by extolling the wonders wrought by tax-cutting, deregulation and the aggressive courting of jobs from higher-tax states like California, Michigan and Illinois.

[For the last decade] Perry has been the chief mad scientist in Texas’ bad-government lab, seizing every opportunity to gut social spending, pander to the culture-warriors and enrich his high-rolling corporate sponsors. In 2003, with a conservative legislature feloniously purchased by Tom DeLay and associates, Perry led a revolution to deregulate, privatize and tort-reform nearly everything. “Texas is open for business,” his campaign happily proclaimed when the dust had settled.

Three years later, with the lawmakers deadlocked over a school finance plan that would somehow meet State Supreme Court standards, Perry engineered a massive “tax swap,” slashing property taxes and replacing them with a modest business tax that left the state with a $5[-$7] billion annual “structural deficit” going forward—and a handy excuse to keep cutting programs to make budgets balance.

This year, when the massive debt was announced, Perry’s right-wing allies could not contain their glee. “The bottom line is there are no excuses now,” exclaimed Republican Senator Dan Patrick, a talk-radio host and founder of the Tea Party Caucus. “It’s a perfect storm, in a positive way, for conservatism.” In his inaugural speech, David Dewhurst, three-term lieutenant governor, turned it into a cheer: “We pronounce the word C-R-I-S-I-S as ‘opportunity.’”

Dan Patrick and David Dewhurst were referring to the "Starving the beast" strategy. This is a fiscal-political strategy adopted by American conservatives in the 1970's to create or increase existing budget deficits via tax cuts to force future cuts and eventual privatization of Medicare, Social Security, Public Education and every other public service.

Texas has long been as politically and culturally influential as California. If that’s not often recognized, it’s for a valid reason: the influence Texas exercises pulls other states backward. “People used to say that the future happens first in California,” Krugman writes, “but these days what happens in Texas is probably a better omen. And what we’re seeing right now is a future that doesn’t work.”

Read the full story at The Nation.

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