Lawmakers from across the State of Texas will be heading to Austin this month as the 82nd Legislature convenes at noon on January 11th.
Lawmakers will have full plates waiting for them, it seems lawmakers plan to debate and pass legislation dealing with smoking to bullying in schools. None, however, will be more pressing than coming up with a balanced budget, which will be a chore given the state is also facing a major budget shortfall. Estimates on that shortfall range widely, it's been reported it could be as low as a few billion to $20 billion. Either way, lawmakers have 140 days to come up with a balanced budget, as required by the state's constitution.
While talk seems to be running wild on how to tackle the shortfall, from using the rainy day fund, which is estimated at over $7 billion to putting a state income tax in place, all options seem to be on the table.
This article will focus on one question, should lawmakers consider raising taxes to help balance the state's budget?Read more Should Texas Comptroller negotiate tax breaks? How will the 2011 payroll tax holiday affect you? Social Security tax reduced; more for your paycheck
What the lawmakers think
Since legislators will be the one's filing bills, voting on laws and such, we thought they would be the logical first people to start with on the issue.
Amarillo Republican and Texas Panhandle Lawmaker John Smithee was the first lawmaker we posed the question to. Smithee said that a tax increase should not and will not happen during the upcoming session.
In a statement issued to ProNews 7, the lawmaker said "the projected shortfall can be dealt with by carefully-crafted spending reductions and fiscal discipline."
In fact, state agencies have already been asked to prepare cuts and identify all possible savings. In December, Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus sent a letter to those agencies which asked for a 2.5% savings for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year.
Smithee also pointed out that "when we are trying to mount economic recovery and create new and better jobs, its the worst possible time to raise taxes." Adding that voters sent a "clear and unmistakable" message to elected officials in November, that being "live within your means and use common sense just like the rest of us," Smithee said.
Across the aisle
While the idea of any increase doesn't seem to be popular among lawmakers, some are bringing up the idea of a temporality sales tax increase.
Rep Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, was quoted in an article in the Houston Chronicle as saying "I think it's something that needs to be considered before we gut public and higher education and essential services for the elderly, disabled and children."
Such an increase could generate more than $2 billion a year. However, in that same article, Coleman also showed concern that such an increase could hit the poor the hardest, but could also preserve crucial services and move toward a compromise with the GOP.
Political Science Experts?
For an independent analysis of our question, we also emailed Dr. Dave Rausch, Teel Bivins Professor of Political Science Faculty Athletics Representative, at West Texas A&M University.
Dr. Rausch made some interesting points about the question, the first being that taxes will probably be enacted on those most likely able to pay and most likely to vote. He also pointed out that without an increase in revenues collected by the government, some functions of government are going to be cut, as Representatives referenced above as spending reductions.
However, Rausch said cuts are most likely to serve or deal with people who are least likely, or unable, to vote. He offered up this example: "cuts in public education by increasing the size of elementary school classes affects the students in those classrooms, but they don't vote. Unfortunately, we won't know how increasing class sizes will affect society until several years from now when those students enter the workforce."
He went on to say lawmakers would probably not suffer the the same amount of political damage by increasing the sales tax rate as they would should they choose to enact a progressive income tax. Since a sales tax is only charged when a purchase is made, only those buying something would notice the increase, those who choose to save their money would not pay the higher tax. Rausch said that some really wealthy people in Texas might welcome a higher sales tax by calling it a consumption tax, which Coleman believes most Republicans see as the fairest.
What do our viewers think?
Using our facebook page, we asked our readers what they thought, should a tax increase be considered to help offset the budget shortfall. We received 12 comments on that post, all said no, some more strongly than others.
One reader wrote, "Obama tells us Americans that we need to learn to live within our means so I think the government and our state needs to learn the same!"
What do you think? Leave your comments below and vote in our poll!