Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What Texas Should Learn From Greece

The Lone Star State is world-renowned for its pride, and with good reason. We have what is arguably some of the world's best food, a heritage chock-full of eccentric and successful individualists, and a land rich with resources. In the minds of many, Texans are a special mixture of luck and self-determination, stubborn as the long-horned cattle raised on our farms, and as kind as a cool breeze on a hot summer's day.

Texas is also well-known for its anti-tax approach to big business. Whether a tax-free weekend to temporarily boost sales, franchise tax breaks to corporations, or the tax break granted to the fracking industry, our legislators are overtly keen on cutting taxes. With one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, you might assume that this approach has obviously worked.

But here's the thing. While our unemployment rate is low, our poverty and uninsured rates are incredibly high. Our schools are overcrowded, emergency services are overburdened, and our roads are literally crumbling before our eyes. The infrastructure we have depended on for so many decades is falling apart, and thanks to our elected officials, we don't seem to have the funds necessary to fix it.

Unlike the federal government, our state's ability to provide necessary services to our people is dependent upon the amount of taxes raised. Much like Greece and the euro, Texas does not have the ability to create its own currency. In 2011, as Greece was cutting funding for education and closed or merged over 1,000 schools, our elected officials were cutting $5.4 billion from our state's anemic public education budget.

We lost thousands of teachers, saw class-sizes skyrocket across the state, and did untold amounts of damage to our state's future. That same year, Governor Perry gleefully signed a budget which cut necessary funding from the Texas Forest Service. If you don't remember, it was hot as hell that year and we were in a long-term drought. A wildfire devastated huge parts of our state, and we didn't have the resources to address it. Two of our brave firefighters were killed in the blaze.

And then there are the roads. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "Damaged roads and bridges cost more than... $25.1 billion annually for Texas drivers."

When the Texas Legislature discusses these issues, they frame it as a funding choice between transportation, emergency services, and public education. If the public is more concerned about one rather than the other two that year, they cut the funding accordingly, and those services get progressively worse. At no point do they consider increasing the taxes levied on the multi-national corporate conglomerates or eliminating unnecessary tax breaks for Big Oil, because that might hurt their campaign fundraising efforts. They just tell the public that they won't raise taxes because it would "kill jobs."

But with a poverty rate of over 17%, we have to consider the fact that if we don't increase the tax revenues, we will steadily become the welfare state that so many conservatives publicly loathe. Necessary services will continue to get privatized as the public's view sours, which inevitably costs more for our people than what it would have to properly fund and manage the existing public options. As our personal budgets are stretched even thinner over time, we will have less disposable income to buy the goods sold by the corporations, and they will leave for greener pastures.

Historically, corporations have always played states and nations against each other. When we elect officials who promote deregulation and corporate tax breaks, we sell out our future. States which cut their sales and margins (business) taxes might see a temporary boost in jobs, but typically they will be low-wage positions, and it will come at the sacrifice of other state-funded salaries, like teachers, firefighters, and police. Once the local resources are depleted, they move to other states. This results in ghost towns, without much hope or opportunity for the poor bastards who are stuck there.

Here in Texas we are creating a mass of welfare-dependent people by increasing the number of high school dropouts, failing to address the uninsured, and gutting what little corporate regulation we had to protect our people. When such a citizenry becomes untenable, the corporations which came for the low taxes will leave.

And so we come to Greece's recent vote against further austerity. The jobs are gone. The coffers are empty, and so are the bellies of their people. Thanks to the anti-inflation rules built into the euro, the only chance Greece has of clawing its way out of the hole it's in is to exit the Eurozone, and even that will further decimate its credit rating. Texas, however, has no chance of leaving the United States (much to the chagrin of our Tea Party leaders), so if we fail to address the issues in front of us we will eventually be stuck in a permanent quagmire of poverty.

If you are concerned over the defunding and privatization of our public services, and you want to work toward solutions which will greatly enhance the prosperity of all Texans, please contact your local Democratic Party office. We can change the direction our state is headed if we collectively organize and elect intelligent, honest, and bold representatives into our state legislature.

Your friend,

Michael Messer
Friendly Neighborhood Democrats

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