The Texas elections are over and one thing is clear: Voters want small government.
Despite a flood of outside money pushing liberal causes and candidates, Texans rejected the siren call of socialism and sent many of its most ardent supporters packing. The electorate left no doubt that the Lone Star State remains red and its conservative values run deep.
Now that voters have had their say, it’s up to state lawmakers to make it happen. The 2021 Texas Legislature should be ready to advance a big, bold agenda that moves us noticeably to the right—toward freer markets and freer people.
To that end, here are some ideas for lawmakers to consider.
First, ban taxpayer-funded lobbying. Under current law, local governments can hire lobbyists at public expense to advocate for higher taxes, more spending, and bigger government. And boy, do they! In 2017 alone, local governments spent as much as $41 million to lobby the statehouse, a sum that understates the true cost to taxpayers as it doesn’t account for the good bills killed and the bad bills passed.
Banning this anti-taxpayer practice is the single most consequential change conservatives could make next session, likely ushering in a new era of limited local governance.
Next, radically reform property taxes. Too many Texans are either at risk of or have already been taxed out of their homes. We cannot let this continue. Massive change is needed to protect people, especially the poor and the elderly. In the ideal, the Legislature would abolish property taxes entirely and replace the lost revenue with a reformed sales tax. But in the past, some have balked at such a major paradigm shift. If a full swap is still too heavy of a lift in 2021, then reformers should push for incremental change, i.e. use a reconfigured sales tax to wipe out the school district maintenance and operations tax, which districts use to pay for day-to-day expenses.
Past research suggests that only modest changes to the sales tax rate and base would be needed to eliminate this part of the property tax. In 2017, the M&O tax generated $25.6 billion or about 45% of the total. By targeting just this portion, reformers improve their odds of success while still being able to deliver tax relief.
Last, stop the spending spree. Cities, counties, and school districts continue to tax-and-spend as if the economy was booming. It’s not. Just the opposite in fact, as evidenced over the weekend by the “thousands of families” who lined up at a North Texas food bank to get a meal.
The burden of government must be made smaller. Families cannot afford otherwise. To do this, lawmakers should create a local spending limit, allowing budgets to grow only as fast as population and inflation increase.
Cities and counties should also be required to undergo a third-party, independent audit of their budgets and operations. These in-depth examinations will help entities operate at peak efficiency and ensure that every dollar is being spent well—something that requires extra vigilance today given the massive amount of federal funds flowing the system.
Next year is not a time for small ideas. We must meet the moment with audacity and daring, boldly pushing forward reforms that will secure liberty and prosperity for all. That is what voters want and lawmakers should be ready to deliver in 2021.
Texans want conservative governance. Let’s give it to them.