by Molly Ivins
National Laboratory for Bad Government has just finished the most interesting experiment, with, as usual, sharp lessons for the rest of the nation. This one is called, "What Can You Do When the Cupboard Is Bare?" The answer is: absolutely nothing.
The 77th session of the Texas Legislature was not, ah, productive. Because, of course, there was no money. The reason there was no money is because George W. Bush pushed two major tax cuts through the 75th and 76th sessions.
But at least, you may think, the people of Texas are enjoying having a little more change in their pockets. Well, no. You see, as soon as the state cut taxes, the school districts raised theirs. Most citizens of this state never a saw a nickel from the Bush tax cuts, and even if they do live someplace where the school districts, starved for money, didn't add new taxes, what we got comes to a Big Mac a month. Meanwhile, the Legislature spent all session scrabbling around to fund health insurance for teachers.
When the cupboard is bare, government becomes an isotonic exercise: Unmet needs push against the equal and opposite force of no money. Unfortunately, the only muscle that develops from this exercise is in the frustration department.
Watching this exercise in futility in Austin take place while the Congress of the United States passed another Bush tax cut naturally led me to a spasm of Texas Proud. Our Ledge may have passed a couple of dumb tax cuts to help Bush get to the White House, but at least we never did anything THAT dumb. Pass a $1.35 trillion tax cut that takes effect 10 years out? In happy synchronicity (that's like N'Sync, kids), 10 years from now is precisely when the first of the baby boom generation will begin to retire, presenting us with a Social Security problem of major dimensions.
You may assume that's SO dumb that Bush's federal tax cut will never actually take place: Congress will see what's happening and cut it off before it throws the country back into the deficit/high interest cycle. But there's a law of political physics that applies here: Politicians love to cut taxes; they hate to raise taxes.
Raising taxes, or even canceling a promised tax cut, makes pols unpopular. They get attacked by their opponents and voted out of office for doing that.
You may recall the last time the feds raised taxes was 1993, when the Democrats gutted up and raised them on the richest people in the country by exactly one vote. Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk went ballistic over "the biggest tax increase in history," even though it affected no one we know. (All tax increases and cuts are "the biggest in history" because the size of the economy keeps growing.) In 1994, the Republicans took over Congress. That's cause and effect there.
Now Bush breezes in and starts by sending everybody in the country a check for "up to" $300 (that's being done at the insistence of the Democrats, who keep trying to get something for everyone, rather than for large political donors only). This is the Clinton Bonus, what we get for having Clinton and Robert Rubin in for eight years. What do you think the next president's going to face?
Apparently, we're dumb enough to fall for this once every 20 years. Ronald Reagan gave us a nice, shiny new tax cut in '81, and it only cost us $2 trillion in debt.
Back at Bad Government Central, the session was one long hangover from the Bush years. If it didn't cost any money -- like the hate crimes bill and keeping kids out of the back of pick-ups -- it got done. However, they could not bring themselves to stop executing the mentally retarded. Even with a record-large budget of $114 billion, the state still can't afford the level of services that would get us up to average in anything.
Forever 48th, that's our motto. It was especially gut-wrenching to watch the $250 million "Marshall Plan" for South Texas get voted down. The level of poverty in the Valley is staggering now: This state has short-changed the Valley since God was young, but this year was supposed to be different. Gov. Goodhair -- also known as the Ken Doll, after Barbie's boyfriend --- said in his State of the State speech putting money into the infrastructure of South Texas was going to be his top priority. Some top: They don't get a nickel.
So here's the news bulletin from our parts: Living with the aftermath of Bush is a bad hangover. Some people are smart enough to see it coming. When Ronald Reagan was pushing tax cuts 20 years ago, a Republican voted against him, predicting the cuts would lead to massive deficits. The guy's name was Jim Jeffords.
May 29, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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