Pamela Mann was a widow who loaned her oxen to the Texian army to pull two cannons, the Twin Sisters, as many Texians fled east in front of Santa Anna’s army during the Runaway Scrape.
When the army turned south toward San Jacinto, Mann demanded the return of the oxen to carry her belongings. Sam Houston refused, but Mann pulled out her Bowie knife and cut the oxen out of their harnesses. No one was willing to try to take them back from her, so the Twin Sisters were pulled by hand the rest of the way.
Texans today still possess the same strong spirit as the Widow Mann, so it is no surprise that a vigorous debate has erupted about the Texas budget-and Texas’ future prosperity-months before the 84th Texas Legislature convenes to take it up in 2015.
The debate began in April when the Texas Public Policy Foundation suggested reforms to the appropriations process that could lead to a sales tax cut for Texas consumers – big spenders objected to any reduction in revenue.
It intensified last month when the Foundation showed, in the Real Texas Budget, that spending by Texas government since 2004 has grown 8.9 percent faster than population growth plus inflation, at a cost to Texans this year of $8 billion.
These are not the numbers you’ll find in the state’s official budget documents, which last year showed that spending – with a few adjustments here and there – had actually decreased since 2001.
The big spenders quickly dismissed the Foundation’s findings, but did not challenge their accuracy. Instead, they mischaracterized our work while rehashing the budget debate from 2013.
There is a good reason they avoided a debate over the increase in state spending: it is not a debate they can win.
Most Texans understand the heavy costs of increased government spending, perhaps because since 2001 they have experienced firsthand the benefits of keeping spending under control.
During this period, Texas has created new jobs at almost five times the pace of the rest of the country. Wage growth is currently 2nd in the nation. Texas cities are at or near the top of the fastest growing cities in America. And no other large state comes close to matching Texas’ economic growth.
This growth encompassing Texans of all economic strata has been accomplished without the massive spending increases advocated here in Austin and taking place in Washington, D.C. and many other states.
Yet the debate over spending continues, even as surging revenues at the state and local level are likely to make a huge surplus of funds available to the Legislature in 2015. If all those funds are spent, Texas could easily find itself joining the ranks of states that spend themselves into economic decline.
This is why the Foundation has joined with its allies to introduce the Conservative Texas Budget, which calls for a cap on spending growth in the 2016-17 state budget of population growth plus inflation, estimated to be 6.2 percent.
To maintain the strong economic growth that has been called the Texas Miracle, state spending of all funds should be capped at $214.4 billion, an increase of $12.5 billion over current spending; spending of state funds should be capped at $140.5 billion, an increase of $8.2 billion.
With more money likely available than could be spent under these caps, the question then becomes, “What should we do with all the ‘extra’ money?”
A lot of people believe they have the answer and are already lining up at the trough for a chance to get their hands on the surplus.
But the best answer is: give the money back to taxpayers. The Legislature could accomplish this by eliminating the Texas margins tax and reducing the sales tax.
In his biography, An American Life, Ronald Reagan wrote, “If … you reduce tax rates and allow people to spend or save more of what they earn, they’ll be more industrious; they’ll have more incentive to work hard, and money they earn will add fuel to the great economic machine that energizes our national progress. The result: more prosperity for all. …”
In Texas, we have proven that more taxes and spending are not the pathway to prosperity. Not everyone has learned the lesson, however.
So it is a good time to be having this debate. The stakes couldn’t be higher.