This commentary originally appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on June 12, 2015.
Texas critics are fond of attributing the Lone Star State’s bull run in jobs to oil and gas, allowing them to discount the role of public policy and claim Texas’ success is due to nothing more than geologic good fortune.
It’s true that oil and gas extraction and mining produces about 14 percent of the Texas economy, but this is about two-thirds of what it was back in 1981.
Only about 2.7 percent of the state’s workforce is engaged in extracting resources from Texas bedrock, down from 5 percent in 1981.
The fact is that the Texas economy is far more diversified than it was in the recent past. This diversification has been driven by a competitive state tax structure, a light regulatory burden and an improved lawsuit climate.
The Legislature can’t set the international price for oil, but it can improve Texas’ competitiveness, making the state a more attractive place to expand operations, hire people and start a business and live the American dream.
To that end, the just-completed session of the 84th Legislature has to be considered a success.
Foremost among the accomplishments was the 25 percent reduction in the business margin tax — a savings to business, large and small, of $2.6 billion.
Property taxes were cut by about $1.2 billion by raising the homestead exemption on school property taxes from $15,000 to $25,000, pending a vote of the people in November. Occupational licensing and other fees were reduced by $200 million
Total taxpayer savings will be $4 billion over two years.
Further, a measure to bring more accountability to local property tax hikes passed. The bill requires a supermajority of a local taxing entity to approve an increase in property taxes.
The Legislature also restrained spending, keeping budget growth within the projected increase of population and inflation. This restraint will keep government from becoming unaffordable over time.
The size and cost of government aren’t the only two areas that impact people: rules, regulations and the criminal justice system do as well.
Onerous and confusing occupational licensing requirements can be a barrier for many Texans, keeping them from advancing in their careers of choice.
This legislative session saw a relaxation of restrictions on barbers and cosmetologists, while more than a dozen attempts to regulate additional occupations were turned aside.
Lastly, the Legislature enacted several important criminal justice reforms. It also created a commission to review laws with criminal penalties that are outside of the penal code, as well as recommend the removal of redundant or unnecessary laws.
Property crime value thresholds were adjusted for inflation for the first time in 22 years, with a provision enacted to keep those thresholds current with inflation going forward.
In addition, the Legislature approved a second-chances bill, allowing certain ex-offenders who didn’t do time in prison to file a petition of nondisclosure five years after their conviction was set aside by a judge, assuming no other offenses were committed.
This measure balances public safety and a possibility for redemption, allowing ex-offenders to be a more productive member of society.
With the ongoing weakness in the price of oil, the Legislature’s work will go a long way toward showing critics that Texas’ success has more to do with good public policy than with good luck.