This commentary was originally featured in the Texas Tribune on February 19, 2018.
Texas is a leader in economic prosperity, but that gap may narrow soon. Missouri is enacting a slate of pro-business policies, including tort reform and considering deep cuts to its corporate tax rate. North Carolina’s low cost of doing business put it on top of Forbes’ list of best states for business in 2017. Even New York has an “open for business” campaign.
Texas has the edge, of course – more than a quarter of all U.S. jobs created since the Great Recession have been created in Texas. But other states are catching on – and catching up.
So how can Texas keep its lead? It’s not too early to talk about this: in less than a year, the Legislature will be back in session, with the opportunity to enact reforms that will advance the cause of liberty.
With this in mind, the Texas Public Policy Foundation is launching the Texas Prosperity Promise. It is designed to ensure Texas remains the beacon of liberty, prosperity, and innovation for America—and for the world. The proposal lays out policies that result in a high-quality education, fair taxation, responsible spending, accountability, and self-governance.
It’s more than a plan for the next legislative session: it’s a commitment to the guiding values that are critical to keeping Texas prosperous and free.
To start, TPPF is calling for three important reforms to our education system. First, Texas must replace its complex, convoluted school finance system with a student-centered finance system that is focused on funding one thing – the delivery of a top-notch education to Texas public school students.
Second, Texas families deserve the freedom to choose the best education possible. The state legislature should empower parents and students—not a bureaucracy— to decide how their education dollars are spent. And finally, lawmakers should remove onerous mandates that hamper student success and, instead, give teachers and school leaders more flexibility to innovate in the classroom.
On property taxes, the state legislature should reduce the crushing burden on home and business owners so that they can truly own their property rather than pay rent to the state forever—and then offset those taxes with state revenue. And it should rein what local governments can spend by limiting property tax revenue increases to no more than 2.5 percent per year.
On spending, state and local officials should operate within their means and adopt responsible, conservative budgets. That means limiting spending increases to no more than 4 percent or population growth plus inflation, whichever is less, to sustain economic prosperity in Texas.
Next, TPPF’s Texas Prosperity Promise recognizes that only transparent, accountable government truly serves the will of the people. So we have focused on two specific reforms that will go a long way toward ensuring accountability.
First, the Legislature should protect taxpayers from funding special interests by prohibiting government from hiring lobbyists. The city of Austin, for example, voted to spend nearly $1 million in public funds on lobbyists in 2016 – mostly to fight measures that Texans widely support, such as tax and spending reforms and ending forced annexation.
And second, we must end automatic contributions to unions by public employees. They are free to join unions and pay dues, but the state of Texas shouldn’t be the unions’ collections arm.
Finally, TPPF recognizes the need to improve civics education for Texas students. Self-government depends on understanding our founding and our history.
The state legislature should restore the true intent of existing law that requires, in universities and K-12 schools, the teaching of American history and government, not the weak substitute courses that have become commonplace. It should also focus on strengthening civics education in every Texas secondary school. Similarly, the State Board of Education and university regents should reform our history and civics curriculum to ensure students learn basic American history, government, economics, and Western civilization.
States are beginning to respond as they see their populations flee to freer, more prosperous states like Texas. That will naturally improve the competition around the country for jobs, investment, attracting the best talent, and ensuring a quality education. Before Texas loses its edge, we must promise today to work together, stay true to the values and principles that have produced success, and make improvements in the next legislative session to build a Texas that remains a beacon of liberty and prosperity for all Texans.
To learn more and to sign the Texas Prosperity Promise, visit: https://www.texaspolicy.com/about/prosperitypromise