There are 66 cities/metro areas in the United States with a population of at least 450,000. Five are in Texas – all of which rank in the top seven nationally. Austin, Houston, and San Antonio take the top three spots, while Dallas comes in fifth, and Ft. Worth seventh. Texas dominates the landscape.
The results are quite similar when the smaller cities/metro areas are included. Of the 397 U.S. cities ranked, 24 of the 26 Texas cities place in the top half, with 21 in the top quartile. The only two in the bottom half are Victoria and Wichita Falls.
Surely Texas must be doing something right to achieve these results. I’d like to think that our ranking near the bottom of most spending and tax categories-thus allowing folks to keep their money and create new jobs with it-has something to do with it. Our oil, natural gas, and coal resources certainly help. And though we can’t credit free market policies as the reason we have energy resources where others don’t, it must also be noted that Texas isn’t the only state with fossil fuel resources. And unlike several of those other states-California and Florida come to mind-Texas is pursuing free market policies that allow those resources to be extracted.
Michael Shires, the author of the rankings, writes that while energy is certainly helping Texas, our response to past crises is the key to our current success. He cites the restrictions we have “limiting home equity lines” as one example. While this is hardly a free-market measure, it did insulate Texas from the damage the out-of-control U.S. government-created mortgage lending crisis inflicted on so many other states. I believe our moderation in resolving the 2003 budget crisis through spending restraint rather than new taxes is even a bigger factor in our current economic health.
Shires says that moderation is the best response to the current crises, pointing out that the “current pace of government spending is unsustainable.” Additionally, “governments at all levels need to reduce their cost structures.” And we need to avoid measures such as “California’s aggressive climate legislation, for example, and the mixed signals it is sending businesses across the state’s 28 MSAs.”
We conservatives sometimes don’t like the word moderate, but in this case I believe Shires is right on. Some moderation in taxes, spending, and regulation is exactly what Texas needs to see it through the budget crunch the Texas Legislature will face in 2011. For instance, the top three areas in Texas for growth are College Station-Bryan, Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood, Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos. While I am glad these cities are doing well, and there is no doubt that being in Texas with our small-government climate has helped them, these rankings would lead me to believe that another thing we are doing well is spending a lot of money on universities and the military. We can’t do anything about military spending in Texas, but we ought to take a closer look at higher education spending come January to see if there is a little room for moderation there to help us balance the budget.
There is obviously a lot going on at the federal level right now worthy of attention, but don’t forget what is happening in Texas. We have proven that we can keep things humming along pretty well here despite what goes on in Washington. Stay tuned to www.texaspolicy.com to keep on top of what’s going on here in Austin at the Pink Dome.
– Bill Peacock