It’s playoff baseball time here in Texas—go ‘Stros! But baseball fans know everything depends on the umpires—as the great Bill Klem said, when asked whether a ball was fair or foul, “It ain’t nothing until I call it.”
It’s time for us to call fair and foul on the Texas Legislature; there were some homeruns, some wild pitches and even some unforced errors. And ultimately, it’s the taxpayers who either win or lose.
To begin with, lawmakers did well in remembering the taxpayer by maintaining a Conservative Texas Budget (CTB), which sets a maximum appropriations threshold based on the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it (as measured by population growth plus inflation), and passing a stronger spending limit.
There was concern with Congress sending Texas $16.3 billion in mostly discretionary funding through the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). During the recently ended third special session, the Legislature appropriated $13.3 billion of it, with a positive of leaving $3 billion for possible tax relief later.
Another winning play is that the Legislature followed most of the Foundation’s recommendations for ARPA funds.
It sustained the CTB and used the funds for only one-time expenditures which will help avoid any fiscal cliffs like some claimed Texas had after Obama’s one-time “stimulus” funds in 2009. Legislators appropriately used $7.2 billion—about half of ARPA funds—for debt payment and replenishment of the state’s depleted unemployment trust fund after the shutdown recession to avoid a massive payroll tax hike on employers. And they ensured transparency and accountability by requiring that the uses of these funds be posted on a government website and put in a separate account, respectively.
While those actions benefited taxpayers, a botched play was in not providing substantial, broad-based property tax relief.
This could have been done, as there were surplus funds of $6 billion in general revenue and $3 billion in ARPA funds. All legislators needed to do was use surplus funds to reduce school district maintenance and operations property taxes, thereby continuing the path toward eliminating property taxes by 2033.
Instead, lawmakers raised the homestead exemption for school district property taxes by $15,000 to $40,000, funded by about $450 million in general revenue annually. And even this won’t happen unless voters approve this constitutional amendment in May 2022. If passed, more than 5 million homeowners would benefit from average savings of $176—excluding other higher local property taxes. So, no relief for business owners, landlords, apartment owners, renters, and those with secondary properties.
This compromise followed proposals in the Senate that would have provided at least $2 billion in general revenue to lower school district property taxes for everyone and in the House that would have provided $3 billion in ARPA funds for checks to only those with a homestead.
Clearly, the Senate’s version would have been broad-based, even though more could have been added to it. Combining it with HB 90 in the House that would have provided structural reform to eliminate property taxes over time, which died in House calendars, could have provided extraordinary relief. Instead, it appears that lobbyists for the public ed establishment pushed against this pro-taxpayer effort, resulting in little-to-no relief through the increase in the homestead exemption.
A huge unforced error was the wasteful spending of ARPA funds.
The decision to allocate $325 million in ARPA funds to support $3.3 billion in tuition revenue bonds for construction at higher education institutions is at the top of the fouls list. While tuition and student debt continue to rise, the quality of education is declining, and universities are already receiving billions of dollars, this provision is ill-advised.
It’s unfortunate that instead of providing tax relief these funds went to projects like student housing enhancements for the Marine Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and $100 million to two state university systems for institutional enhancements.
However, not all state legislators sought to rubber stamp additional funds to a declining higher education system. Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) proposed an amendment that sought to connect the amount of money institutions can receive based on the rate of tuition increase. Unfortunately, the amendment didn’t pass, ending an opportunity to curb the fiscal bloat that plagues Texas universities, students, and taxpayers.
Putting this year’s legislative game in perspective there were many hits but also some strikeouts, especially on major property tax relief. But taxpayers did get relief from less government spending than what was available.
The Legislature left about $20 billion in total revenue, including $6 billion in general revenue, and $12 billion in the rainy day fund and $3 billion in ARPA funds on the table. Texas should return much if not all of these surplus funds to struggling taxpayers so they can recover from the shutdown recession, withstand the stagflation by the Biden administration, and actually own their property.
But as with baseball, there’s always next season.
Governments’ forced business closures and mandates in response to COVID-19 resulted in much economic destruction during what I am calling the “shutdown recession.” Returns to normal, to work, and to pro-growth polices are essential for the economic recovery and people’s flourishing. However, more government intervention in response to the Delta variant and reckless fiscal and monetary policies out of D.C. are hindering the recovery. The labor market has been improving more slowly than expected even though Congress has authorized $6 trillion since the pandemic started and may soon authorize another $6.2 trillion, while the Federal Reserve has more than doubled its balance sheet to $8.4 trillion. The federal government has been paying people not to work thereby supporting labor market shortages and a near record high of 2.1 million more job openings than total unemployed. In August, there was a record high of 2.9% of job holders who quit their job, possibly due in part to the vaccine mandates. Congress should stop paying people not to work, reject the reckless Build Back Better agenda, and return to the pro-growth policies supporting vast opportunities to let people prosper.
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I don’t know the story behind the clean two-story home on Goldfinch Lane in Montgomery County. But I know enough. Soon, attorneys will sell the property on the fourth floor of the Commissioners Court Building in Conroe. In this white-hot real estate market, it will likely to go investors.
What it means is that at some point, a family couldn’t keep up with the property taxes. And now the foreclosed home, valued at $171,180, will go to the highest bidder in the county’s monthly tax sale. Did it involve an illness? A death? It doesn’t matter now.
This is a threat that hangs over every homeowner in Texas—and every business owner who holds the title to the property they do business on. Texans will never experience the peace of mind that comes with owning their homes until property taxes are eliminated. Until then, Texans are simply renting their homes from the government, always with the fear that taxes could become so exorbitant they can no longer afford to stay.
But we have a plan. Our “Lower Taxes, Better Texas” plan will eliminate property taxes for every Texan by 2033 (or sooner), while also making structural changes to our system that prevent year-to-year spikes in tax bills. At the same time, we’ll rein in irresponsible local government spending.
Texans need and want real property tax reform. In recent polls, 82% of Texans said property taxes are a serious issue and 7 out of 10 said they would be upset if the current legislative session ended with nothing done to lower their property tax bill.
Even the media agrees.
“Older Texans on fixed incomes, even those with senior exemptions and freezes, too often end up being priced out of their homes,” a recent Dallas Morning News editorial noted. “Young first-time homebuyers are priced out of homeownership and stay in apartments where monthly rents are rivaling monthly mortgages.”
How does our Lower Taxes, Better Texas plan work? It’s a three-pronged approach.
It begins with controlling the driving force behind tax hikes—increased spending. The Legislature has already enacted a new spending limit based on a formula using population growth and inflation, and any surplus general revenue must first be used to reduce property taxes. This surplus can be used to buy down school district maintenance and operations (M&O) taxes.
And that’s the second prong: Lawmakers now must pass Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 90, which will ensure that those surpluses are used to buy down property taxes now, and in the future. SB 1 would spend the current surplus on property taxes, and with this precedent, HB 90 would require that future Legislatures allocate at least 90% of any future surplus to the same cause.
Finally, legislators should pass House Bill 91 (with a few key amendments). We must redesign the state’s tax code so that local governments are funded primarily by sales taxes. This redesign would broaden the base of goods and services covered by the sales tax while lowering the rate. The result would be to finally eliminate school M&O taxes after years of cutting them.
Critics say lower-income Texas families would be hurt by reliance on sales taxes, but they fail to consider that we all pay property taxes—even if we’re renters. Higher property taxes get passed along—property owners aren’t in the rental business to lose money. And a slight broadening of the sales tax base will allow us to keep the exemptions—such as food and medicines—that make sense for Texas families.
Besides, once property taxes are eliminated, that surplus can then used to buy down sales taxes.
In September, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott added property tax reform to the third Special Session agenda. Legislators can act now to ensure Texans can keep their homes for generations to come.
I’ll probably never know why that Montgomery County home sits empty. But by itself, it tells a story—one we must work to ensure doesn’t get repeated again and again. Let’s stop taxing Texans out of their homes.
Texans’ livelihood is improving after much destruction from forced business shutdowns by governments in response to COVID-19. Recently, some normalcy returned as the Texas economy was fully opened on March 10, 2021, contributing to less unemployment and an improved civil society. The regular and second special sessions of the 87th Texas Legislature supported this normalcy, with wins of sound fiscal and regulatory legislation, more paths to opportunity, and another Conservative Texas Budget. More successes may be realized during the third special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott by advancing more pro-growth policies to spend responsibly and eliminate property taxes thereby supporting the recovery and withstanding Washington’s anti-growth policies.
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At least in baseball, you’re out after the third strike. Baseball is merciful. The Texas Legislature, not so much. At least the fourth legislative session—the third special—gives lawmakers a chance to appropriate money sent to the state by Congress through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021.
The Legislature has kept spending in check so far this year, but these funds present a new temptation. Lawmakers must resist—and spend the ARPA money wisely.
They’re off to a good start.
The Legislature passed the 2022-23 state budget well below TPPF’s Conservative Texas Budget (CTB), which sets a maximum threshold on the budget based on the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it (as measured by population growth plus inflation). And lawmakers left $12 billion in the state’s rainy day fund.
Staying fiscally conservative while meeting the needs of taxpayers is nothing new for Texas. The last four budgets since 2015 passed by lawmakers have averaged growth under the CTB limit, helping keep more money in taxpayers’ pocket.
Let’s keep that going with the ARPA money. Here are some priorities Texas legislators should consider.
ARPA funds by Congress to state and local governments in Texas totaled $41 billion, with $25.2 billion either already released or allocated for specific purposes. Nearly $16 billion in more flexible funding will head to the state in one payment because Texas’s unemployment rate is more than 2 percentage points above the pre-pandemic rate. This part is 13% of the state’s annual budget for legislators to determine what’s best for Texans.
Remember, this is a one-time payment. It’s not an excuse to irresponsibly add nearly $16 billion in additional appropriations in the next biennium. Given that this is allocated wisely, we will exclude this amount from the CTB limit so that the budget is not inflated for excess spending later while catching ongoing spending in the next budget cycle if necessary.
We should use the majority of this to pay off our outstanding balance with the U.S. Treasury’s Unemployment Trust Fund. Texas holds the third largest balance, behind only New York and California. We’re $6 billion in the hole and we need to replenish $2 billion in credit the state had prior to the pandemic. The outstanding balance continues to accrue interest, costing Texans millions of dollars that could otherwise be used elsewhere.
Depending on the amount needed, we should use about $5 billion in ARPA funds directly or those swapped out with state general revenue to complete the border wall—providing relief to Texas taxpayers who have been paying for the rising cost of the crisis along the border for the rest of the nation.
And with burdensome local property taxes continuing to climb, we should be finding ways to eliminate them as quickly as possible. A good way would be to add what was done in 2019 and maintained in the 2021 regular session by using the remaining amount to compress school district M&O property taxes in the 2022-23 school year for additional tax relief.
Adding what could be billions more in surplus funds after appropriations in the second special session, including $100 million in property tax relief to some Texans, there’s an opportunity to provide even more compression so that Texans receive a lower property tax bill.
Since property taxes are technically local taxes, this could be a way to navigate around the unwise restrictions imposed by Washington.
To ensure accountability and transparency within the Legislature, the flexible ARPA funds should be separated from the base budget to avoid it being buried within future appropriations.
This would limit any possibility of a repeat from Democrats who argued there were “cuts” to education following Obama’s one-time “stimulus” funds. Regardless of whether these measures are taken, all related ARPA spending should be posted on the Comptroller’s or Legislative Budget Board’s website.
There are other good ideas on how to use ARPA funds, but they may be restricted due to federal regulations—which is why there should be more clarity from the Treasury.
This fourth session gives lawmakers the opportunity to allocate the ARPA funds; they should be spent wisely.
These data provide overwhelming evidence that the Texas Model of inclusive institutions with a relatively low tax-and-spend burden, no individual income tax, and sensible regulation provides an institutional framework supporting more job growth, higher wages, lower income inequality, and less poverty than in comparable states and the U.S., in most cases. Other states and D.C. would be wise to consider adopting Texas’s inclusive economic and political institutions that champion individual liberty, free enterprise, and personal responsibility. This is a path to providing an economic environment that allows entrepreneurs the greatest opportunity to thrive and for prosperity to be generated for the greatest number of people, especially the neediest among us.
Despite this success, improvements are needed to keep the Texas Model competitive and create even more opportunities for all to flourish. These improvements to Texas’s institutional framework include limiting the growth in government spending at all levels, eliminating the state’s onerous burdens of property and franchise taxes, reducing barriers to international trade, relieving people from burdensome occupational licenses, and reforming safety nets.
Even with these needed improvements, the historical data overwhelmingly show it has not been a miracle in Texas, but rather abundant prosperity generated by Texans from a proven institutional framework called the Texas Model.
The economic success of the Texas Model’s limited government framework demonstrates that institutions matter for prosperity. But Texas must improve to remain competitive and support greater flourishing
Texas owes $7 billion to the U.S. Treasury’s Unemployment Trust Fund.
Lawmakers here in Texas can pay off that balance entirely, without any interest charges, and without using any state funds. The only catch is that the Texas Legislature and governor would need to do so by Sept. 6, so that’s unlikely—but they can keep the cost low if they take action soon.
Unemployment insurance is a surprisingly complicated, convoluted program.
Few people understand how it works, who pays for it, how benefits are calculated for the unemployed, or who even qualifies for benefits. Congress has added even more complexities and confusion to the program over the last year and a half with bonuses, extensions, and more. There are also substantial differences between states.
While the full details of the entire unemployment insurance program could fill a textbook, here are the basics.
Businesses pay payroll taxes which finance a trust fund for each state held at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor. States then use this trust fund to help pay their unemployment claims. As states’ balances in the trust fund rise and fall, the individual states adjust their business tax rates to try and maintain an adequate volume of funds with the U.S. Treasury.
If a state’s account runs dry, as can happen in a severe recession, the Treasury will loan the necessary funds to that state at a variable interest rate. The state must then repay the borrowed funds, along with the interest charged to its account. Furthermore, the state must also replenish the previous balance with additional funds.
The government-imposed shutdowns over much of the last 18 months, along with other misguided policies, created sky-high unemployment in many states, including Texas. Unemployment claims skyrocketed and this quickly depleted the state’s $2 billion trust fund account. After those savings were expended, Texas had to borrow billions of dollars from the Treasury to continue paying claims.
The Lone Star State has the third largest outstanding balance with the Treasury. New York, despite having fewer people, managed to dig itself an even deeper hole, racking up more than $10 billion of red ink in its ledger with the Treasury at the time of this writing. California is in even worse shape, by a large margin. The Golden State owes a massive $25 billion to the Unemployment Trust Fund.
Fortunately, the Texan economy has improved, and the state has not borrowed additional funds from the Treasury for months. With the bleeding stopped, it is now time to address the $7 billion hole along with replenishing the $2 billion credit that the state had with the Unemployment Trust Fund before the pandemic. That is a grand total of $9 billion which should be allocated to this problem.
In normal times, Texas would have no choice but to drastically increase taxes on businesses to raise the needed revenue to cover this hole. But these are not normal times.
Congress has allocated $41 billion for Texas as part of the American Relief Plan Act (ARPA) and the Treasury Department has issued guidance to the states that the funds can sent to the Unemployment Trust Fund. Texas has the money to fund this problem—state lawmakers only need to appropriate the ARPA funds.
Time is of the essence because the Treasury has temporarily waived all interest on outstanding balances with the Unemployment Trust Fund, but that is set to end Sept. 6. Even a low interest rate will still create millions of dollars in interest charges because the state’s balance is in the billions of dollars.
While the second called Special Session just ended, the upcoming third called Special Session is when the Legislature should immediately allocate the roughly $9 billion out of the almost $16 billion in the flexible ARPA funds available.
Delaying this payment past Sept. 6 will unfortunately cost taxpayers millions of dollars, which could otherwise go to tax cuts, roads, or education.
Texas is one of 14 state accounts with an outstanding Unemployment Trust Fund balance that together total more than $56 billion. West Virginia has repaid its balance with the Treasury and so will not pay any interest. Texas lawmakers can save their constituents millions of dollars in interest charges, but only if they act quickly.
While Sept. 6 will likely come and go without payment (though maybe action at the federal level could delay it further), this bill is coming due and Texas should plan accordingly.
Every dollar the government spends comes from taxpayers. The late economist Milton Friedman said, “The burden of government is not measured by how much it taxes, but by how much it spends.”
Taxes should only fund limited government at the least economic harm, which Texas does well by depending mostly on sales taxes—though local property taxes also impose a hefty toll.
Therefore, to keep state taxes lower than otherwise so Texans can reach their full potential, sound fiscal policy must begin with spending restraint, which the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget has helped achieve.
But that fiscal restraint in Texas was limited from at least 2004 to 2015. The average growth of the six two-year budgets then was 12% compared with just 7.3% in population growth plus inflation, which measures the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for government. This excessive spending compounded over time, resulting in even higher taxes and less prosperity than otherwise.
A clear break in the state’s budget happened in 2015. The average biennial growth of the four budgets since then for 2016 to 2023 has been 4.8% (less than half of the prior six) compared with population growth plus inflation of 6.2%. And the 87th Legislature finally passed a stronger spending limit in SB 1336 sponsored by Sen. Kelly Hancock and Rep. Greg Bonnen.
Texas is now leading. How?
One answer is new leadership. After the 2014 election of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Republican-led Texas Legislature had a mandate for fiscal conservatism. Consider how in 2015 the state passed a budget for 2016-17 below population growth plus inflation along with a historic $4 billion in tax relief. That fiscal restraint continued over much of the next three budgets providing opportunities for $5 billion in property tax relief in 2019 with a 7-cent compression to the school district maintenance and operations property tax rate.
Another answer is that even before the 2014 election, the Foundation had created the Conservative Texas Budget (CTB) as a clear and achievable standard for lawmakers.
The CTB sets a maximum threshold on the total budget based on population growth plus inflation over the last two fiscal years before the regular session. We release it early to provide a limit for state agencies to have available for their legislative appropriation requests and then for legislators to use during the appropriations process. Then there’s keeping it on the minds of legislators and taxpayers through testimonies, commentaries, and more, so that Texans can keep more of their money.
The real reason for Texas’s fiscal success is the internal and external institutional pressures around the Texas Capitol and across the state. That’s why Texas is leading in sound fiscal policy.
The latest 2022-23 CTB set a maximum threshold of $246.8 billion on the state’s budget based on a 5% increase in population growth plus inflation. Surprisingly, because even though they had more revenue to appropriate, both chambers’ introduced budget versions were below the CTB, with the House’s version being exactly $246.8 billion.
Ultimately, the state budget passed by the Legislature and after Gov. Abbott’s vetoes was $4.8 billion below the CTB at $242 billion (a 3% increase above 2020-21 appropriations for an apples-to-apples comparison), excluding the $6.1 billion.
In this total budget, education ($93.5 billion) and health care ($86.7 billion) consume 73%. Compared with 2020-21 appropriations, the combined net increase in these two large areas of the budget were essentially flat. But in general, these are rising at a rapid rate and need structural changes. There was also $1 billion toward SB 321, the result of an effort that made the Employees Retirement System a cash-balance plan for new employees, which is a good step toward a defined-contribution system.
Because the regular session was “incomplete,” Gov. Abbott called a special session. Then Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced that with faster economic growth and tax collections, there is now an expected $7.85 billion surplus for the 2022-23 biennium, with $12 billion expected in the rainy day fund.
This means that whenever the Democrats return to work, the Legislature will likely appropriate some of that surplus. To help lower property tax bills now, which is what Texans want, at least $5 billion should go to property tax relief along with charting a path to eliminating nearly half of the property tax burden. These appropriations, excluding property tax relief, will raise the budget closer to the CTB but will likely remain below it.
If that’s the case, the average growth over the last four budgets would be about 1-percentage point below population growth plus inflation. This extraordinary feat along with the stronger spending limit in Texas will help uphold fiscal responsibility to make up for earlier excesses. Still, there’s room to improve, as less spending can result in less taxing—so we can keep Texas Texan.
It happens on the first Tuesday of every month. Bidders gather at the west entrance steps of the Smith County Courthouse, looking for bargains. At 10 a.m., the sales commence—properties are auctioned off to pay the taxes owed on them. Some are vacant lots and some are homes. All were seized from their owners over delinquent property taxes.
This happens throughout Texas, and it’s big business. What it shows is that with property taxes hanging over them, every property owner in Texas is really just a renter. If they fall behind on taxes, they can lose what they worked so hard for.
But Texas lawmakers now have an opportunity to ease the burden on property owners—our plan would cut property taxes nearly in half over time, by eliminating school district maintenance and operations (M&O) taxes. We get there by holding down spending growth and using surplus taxpayer dollars at the state level to buy down those school district M&O property taxes over time.
Under this buydown approach, every tax dollar not spent by the state will produce a property tax cut for Texans. Following our plan would let the Texas Legislature keep its pledge to taxpayers by actually lowering property tax bills—something missing in most other plans.
School district M&O property tax is estimated to collect about $56 billion in 2020-21, making up nearly half of the hefty property tax burden Texans face. Putting this money back into the pockets of Texas families is the right thing to do.
In the regular session of the 87th Legislature, lawmakers passed another Conservative Texas Budget and put most of our formula into law. This stronger spending limit restricts growth of much of the state’s budget to the rate of population-times-inflation (6.38% biennially since 2012), a formula that helps ensure the budget doesn’t grow faster than the average Texan’s ability to pay for it.
Yet because state revenues have grown at a higher rate (9.02% biennially since 2012), we’re looking at a steady surplus in the state’s coffers. That surplus can be used to eliminate school district M&O property taxes over time. How? By increasing the state’s share of education spending, gradually replacing the M&O property tax burden.
School districts will have to do their part; they’ll need to lower their tax rates each year to match increased state funding, as well as keep their spending in check (they’re already limited to growth of no more than 2.5% per year without the okay of taxpayers).
If these revenue and spending growth rates hold, Texas could eliminate school district M&O property taxes in 20 years. What would that mean to Texas families? Their property tax burden would be cut from today’s high of about 2.3% of their home’s value to about 1.3%.
This buydown process could be started now by using most or all the Texas Comptroller’s expected $7.85 billion in surplus for the 2022-23 biennium and by passing a bill such as HB 122 during a special session, as soon as Democrats who left Austin return. To lower Texans’ property tax bills soon, at least $5 billion of the surplus should go to buy down school district M&O property taxes.
Lower-income families would benefit most from our plan, because a higher percentage of their incomes go to pay property taxes (that’s true even if they’re renters). Property taxes are beyond our control, unlike sales taxes. We can control what we buy, but our tax rates and taxable property values are set by others.
Our “Lower Taxes, Better Texas” plan would let Texans keep more of their own hard-earned money—and in many cases, their homes. The American dream of home ownership shouldn’t end on the courthouse steps.
Lower Taxes, Better Texas: The Bold Agenda to Reduce Property Taxes, Protect Taxpayers, and Grow the Economy
The way we levy and raise property taxes is not just unsustainable, it is unethical. Texans are being forced out of their own homes by insatiable local governments looking to squeeze every dime out of taxpayers. Texans literally can’t afford for the Legislature to wait years to address the issue or make small changes to the system. More than 70% of Texans say property taxes are a “major burden for them and their family” and want relief now. It’s time for bold action.
Lower Taxes, Better Texas* is a two-pronged approach that immediately cuts property taxes nearly in half and redesigns our system to protect taxpayers, provide a fairer tax system, and grow our economy. The plan not only gives taxpayers immediate relief, but it also makes structural changes to our system that prevent year-to-year spikes in tax bills, allow for a more equitable and transparent form of taxation, and rein in irresponsible local government officials.
Texas’s economy is improving after the destruction from the pandemic and forced business shutdowns. The opening of the economy on March 10, 2021, helped bring some normalcy as many return to work, excessive government restrictions cease, and civil society improves. This normalcy is supported by wins regarding fiscal and regulatory policy and paths to opportunity by the 87th Texas Legislature during the recently completed session, and more successes may be realized during the special session called by Governor Greg Abbott. A key initiative will be to promote more pro-growth policies that reduce spending, taxing, and regulating in order to increase prosperity and withstand Washington’s anti-growth policies.
This table provides a comparison of initial appropriations for the 2020-21 budget from the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) Fiscal Size-Up and for the 2022-23 budget as noted in the conference committee report for SB 1 General Appropriations Act. We compare the budget with the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget (CTB) limits based on on a 5% increase in population growth plus inflation.
We exclude from the 2020-21 budget the $8.3 billion in mostly federal funds for one-time Hurricane Harvey recovery expenses and the $5 billion in general revenue funds for a 7-cent tax rate compression of school district M&O property taxes in HB 3 from the 2019 session. Likewise, we exclude from the 2022-23 budget the $6.1 billion in general revenue funds to maintain last session’s property tax relief—which without this allocation would result in a 7-cent tax rate hike in those property taxes and likely more spending. And we will exclude one-time distributions of federal funds related to the pandemic. Not including these types of one-time funds is necessary for budget transparency and for not inappropriately inflating the baseline budget allowing excessive appropriations later. We also exclude the $410.2 million in all funds for Article X that Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed, and he will likely include in a special session.
The 2022-23 Texas budget is well below the CTB limits in state funds and all funds, and leaves $11.6 billion in the rainy day fund. Excluding the $6.1 billion to stop a massive property tax hike, general revenue funds decline by 3.1% and state funds are up by only 0.7%. Including it, state funds are about $725 million below the CTB. And all funds, which is the full footprint of the taxpayer’s burden to fund state government appropriations, is up 3% to $242 billion, which compared with population growth plus inflation is 2-percentage points lower and $4.8 billion less.
The growth of initial appropriations, on average, has now been well below the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for them over the last four budgets, which was directly after the Foundation created the CTB in 2015.
The Texas Legislature’s practice of fiscal restraint while meeting the needs of the state is good news for Texans. And much of the CTB was passed into statute as the Legislature strengthened the state’s spending limit by expanding the base to all general revenue funds and changed the growth limit to population growth times inflation while increasing the threshold to exceed it to a three-fifths majority in each chamber. After the Foundation has worked toward this statutory change for multiple sessions, this is a huge feat that will have long-lasting benefits to Texans.
We encourage Gov. Greg Abbott to build on these policy wins and more by providing paths for more fiscal gains—such as substantial property tax reductions and improved local revenue limitations—in a special session.
Full article with figures.
Texans will benefit from the policy wins achieved in the 87th Texas Legislature. Among other things, lawmakers:
Passed a Conservative Texas Budget
Strengthened spending limits
Maintained property tax relief
Improved taxpayer protections
Reduced regulatory barriers
The Texas budget, SB 1, came in below the Conservative Texas Budget—in fact, it is about $5 billion below the ceiling the Texas Public Policy Foundation set after excluding the $6.1 billion to maintain the property tax relief from last session. Great credit is due for Senator Jane Nelson and Representative Greg Bonnen because Texans simply cannot afford to pay for out-of-control spending.
Fortunately, measures to address future spending were addressed, too. SB 1336 by Senator Kelly Hancock was sent to the Governor’s desk. This makes much of the Conservative Texas Budget statute by limiting lawmakers from increasing the budget by more than population growth and inflation.
Following the 2019 Session, many local governments sought to bypass the 3.5% limit on property tax growth by taking on more debt in the form of certificates of obligation. This debt would then be passed on to taxpayers. HB 1869 by Representative Dustin Burrows clarifies the definition of debt and reduces this practice for taxing entities.
Local governments also sought to use the “disaster” loophole in 2020 to raise property taxes by 8%. Senator Paul Bettencourt filed SB 1427 which clarifies the types of disasters that can be used to bypass the 3.5% property tax rate limit—COVID-19 was NOT one of the disasters.
Additional bills that expanded on property tax reforms from the 2019 Session were SB 1438 and SB 1449 by Senator Paul Bettencourt. The first would clarify tax rate adjustments and the second would raise the income threshold from personal property from $500 to $2,500 which cuts taxes for small businesses.
On the regulatory side, there were several wins like HB 1560 by Representative Craig Goldman which cuts back on occupational licenses and cuts regulations. HB 139 by Representative Brad Buckley provides license reciprocity for military members, veterans, and their spouses so they will not be forced to go through a new licensing process for an occupation when they move to Texas from another state. Finally, there was SB 424 by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa which reduces regulatory penalties against small businesses for first time violations.
Texas looks to receive $41 billion in taxpayer money provided by Congress in the $1.9 trillion American Relief Plan Act (ARPA). With $31 billion being sent to the state, this is 25% of the state’s annual budget. This excessive spending in D.C. has become the norm and now they’re trying to push their profligate spending onto Texas.
We must not let that happen, and here’s how to stop it.
ARPA funds to Texas include $11.2 billion already released to public schools. Soon, there will be $10 billion for local governments and $4 billion for only water, sewage, and broadband projects. And $15.8 billion in more flexible funding will head to the state in one payment, since Texas’s unemployment rate is more than 2 percentage points above the pre-pandemic rate.
Not only are these funds adding to the skyrocketing national debt, but they’re also more than what Texas needs. The state and local governments already have balanced budgets or surpluses. And to make matters worse, these funds come with strings attached which jeopardize state sovereignty and our republic’s future.
The U.S. Treasury recently released guidance (a Fact Sheet) for the restrictions on how state and local governments can use the ARPA funds. There will now be a 60-day period for public comments on this guidance before additional clarity will be provided.
In the meantime, it appears that the state cannot use these funds for deposits into pension funds or for direct or indirect state tax cuts, except for special cases that don’t seem to apply in Texas, even though cuts by state or local governments seem legitimate and advisable.
The tangle of strings attached to this ARPA money makes it almost impossible to shrink government. Furthermore, states with respectable fiscal track records, like Texas, are being punished while irresponsible state and local governments, like California and Austin, are being rewarded.
Given the strings attached, if the state accepts ARPA funds, Texas’ approach should be a pro-growth, long-term strategy to strengthen the state while assisting struggling Texans still affected by the pandemic and the shutdowns.
The strategy should strive to return these funds to taxpayers by reducing and keeping taxes lower than otherwise, funding only one-time expenditures, and rejecting all or most ARPA funds with strings attached.
This strategy would help avoid expanding government, reduce the impact on state sovereignty, mitigate the rising burden of the federal government’s high spending and debt, and provide relief to families.
Texas would recover faster, and would better withstand the Biden administration’s onerous policies by using the $15.8 billion in more flexible funding on the following options to Keep Texas Texan.
We should allocate $9 billion for federal unemployment trust fund loans and replenish the state unemployment fund to avoid massive tax hikes that would be needed to fund these.
We should use $5.1 billion in ARPA funds directly or those swapped out with state general revenue to complete the border wall and add border security to provide relief of the border crisis and stop using state taxpayer dollars every biennium for this purpose.
And with property taxes continuing to climb, we should use the other $1.7 billion to provide a 2-cent compression of local school M&O property taxes for additional tax relief this session. Adding the extra $3 billion that Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently announced is available would mean there’s an opportunity to provide a 5.5-cent compression. Since these are technically local taxes, this could be a way to navigate around the unwise restrictions imposed by D.C.
These expenditures should be done in a way that ensures accountability and transparency to taxpayers.
There should be no ARPA funds for ongoing expenses to avoid fiscal cliffs that led to problems a decade ago, when Democrats argued there were “cuts” to public education when Obama’s one-time “stimulus” funds ran out. And these funds should be placed in a separate budget article from the base budget like the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget does. And spending should be posted on the Comptroller’s or Legislative Budget Board’s website.
There are other good ideas on how to use ARPA funds, but they may be restricted because of the many strings attached, which is why there should be more clarity from the Treasury. Thus, with so many hoops to jump through, Texas should strongly consider rejecting some or all the funds.
Particularly those with strings attached that would weaken the state’s fiscal and economic situation by creating fiscal cliffs in subsequent sessions, eliminating tax relief opportunities through December 31, 2024, and more. Rejecting ARPA funds would also give Texas an opportunity to help provide relief from the Biden administration’s gambit to bankrupt America with $6 trillion either passed or proposed in legislation during his first 100 days in office.
Texas is a sovereign state. It’s time D.C. recognizes that.
Texas looks to receive roughly $40 billion in taxpayer money provided by Congress through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This includes $11.2 billion already released to public schools and soon to be released $10 billion to local governments and $4 billion to infrastructure projects (i.e., only water, sewage, and broadband projects). And $15.8 billion in more flexible funding to the state in one payment given Texas’s unemployment rate is more than 2 percentage points above the pre-pandemic rate.
Approach Given Restrictions
The U.S. Treasury recently released guidance (Fact Sheet) for the restrictions on how state and local governments can use the ARPA funds. There will now be a 60-day period for public comments on these restrictions before additional clarity will be provided. In the meantime, it appears that the state cannot use these funds for deposits into pension funds or direct or indirect state tax cuts, except for special cases that don’t seem to apply in Texas while local tax cuts by state or local governments seem legitimate and advisable. Given strings attached, if the state accepts ARPA funds, there should be a pro-growth, long-term strategy to strengthen Texas while assisting struggling Texans from the pandemic and shutdowns.
The strategy should strive to return these funds to taxpayers by reducing and keeping taxes lower than otherwise, funding only one-time expenditures, and rejecting all or most ARPA funds with strings attached. This strategy would help avoid expanding government, reduce the impact on state sovereignty, mitigate the rising burden of the federal government’s high spending and debt, and provide relief to families. Texas would recover faster and better withstand the Biden administration’s onerous policies by using the $15.8 billion in more flexible funding on the following options to Keep Texas Texan.
If Texas accepts some or all the funds, consider the following:
Provide Texans with Relief
$9 billion for federal unemployment trust fund loan and replenish state fund to avoid tax hike.
$5.1 billion for border wall completion and border security to provide relief of border crisis.
$1.7 billion for a 2-cent compression of local school M&O property taxes to provide relief.
Ensure Accountability and Transparency
No ARPA funds for ongoing expenses to avoid fiscal cliffs (e.g., pub ed “cuts” after ARRA).
Place funds in separate Article from base budget like TPPF’s Conservative TX Budget
Publish receipts and outlays of funds on Comptroller’s or LBB’s website.
Replace general revenue with federal funds for only one-time items.
Support Reform—May be restricted but possibly by swapping general revenue appropriations
Fund Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) with reforms for sustainability.
Swap with GR to pay down state debt with a high interest rate.
Use to fund defined-contribution retirement accounts or similar reforms for new employees.
Swap with GR to fund expanded special education microgrants created during COVID.
Swap with GR to fund market-based healthcare with direct primary care and other options.
Texas should consider rejecting some or all the funds, particularly those with strings attached that could create fiscal cliffs in subsequent sessions, eliminate tax relief opportunities through December 31, 2024, generate school finance problems, and more.
In response to the Texas Comptroller’s announcement that state revenue would be more than $3 billion higher than expected for the 2022-2023 biennium, the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Vance Ginn released the following statement:
“The Texas Comptroller’s improved estimate of tax collections from primarily an improving COVID-19 situation and opened economy shows that the Legislature has $3.1 billion more available for the Texas budget. Both the House and Senate have already voted in favor of budgets that cover the state’s priorities and stay within the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for them. Therefore, the responsible approach to addressing the additional tax collections should be to give taxpayers relief—especially more toward property tax relief—to help Texas families and businesses.”
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar forecast $115.65 billion available for general-purpose spending in 2022-23, which is up $3.12 billion from January.
72% of Texans say property taxes are a major burden
TPPF Conservative Texas Budget: $246.8 Billion
Texas Senate Committee Substitute Budget: $244.7 Billion
Texas House Committee Substitute Budget: $240.9 Billion
This table provides an apples-to-apples comparison of amounts appropriated for the 2020-21 budget from the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) Fiscal Size-Up and each chamber’s 2022-23 appropriated amounts. We compare each chamber’s appropriated amounts with the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget (CTB) limits for state funds and all funds (state and federal) based on a maximum increase of 5% in population growth plus inflation over the last two fiscal years.
We exclude from the 2020-21 budget the designated $8.3 billion in Hurricane Harvey recovery one-time expenses and $5 billion in general revenue for school district M&O property tax relief in HB 3 from the 2019 session. Likewise, we exclude from each chamber’s version of the 2022-23 budget the $6 billion in general revenue to maintain last session’s property tax relief—which without this allocation would result in school district M&O property taxes rising 7 cents and likely in increased spending—and will exclude one-time COVID-related funding. The exclusion of one-time expenses for a declared disaster recovery is important for budget transparency and for not inappropriately inflating the base by that amount allowing for excessive spending later.
Fortunately, the passed versions of the budget by the Senate and the House fall well below the CTB limits in state funds and all funds, and neither appropriates money from the rainy day fund. This must be maintained—with hopefully more tax relief—by the conference committee and Governor Abbott to account for the average Texas taxpayer’s ability to pay for government spending while leaving more money in the productive private sector to let people prosper.
Vance Ginn, PhD, is chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
By combining property tax reductions and reform with spending limitations, Texas could shift to a more efficient and fairer sales tax system. In this way, Texans can be assured meaningful, lasting property tax relief and an improved Texas Model that will sustain economic prosperity for generations.
Testimony in Support to Texas House Appropriations Committee
It’s easy to tell who the Texans are in a crowd; you simply shout, “the stars at night, are big and bright”—then wait for about the span of four quick claps.
It’s easy to tell if a budget in Texas is truly conservative—and worthy of the great Lone Star State’s commitment to freedom and prosperity. If the biennial budget grows less than population plus inflation—our formula for a Conservative Texas Budget (CTB)—then it’s a budget that doesn’t grow beyond the average Texan’s ability to pay.
We love budget and tax cuts, of course; the Texas Legislature should take every opportunity to ease the burden on taxpayers, leaving more of their money in their own pockets. Yet the CTB is a useful guideline for lawmakers.
The good news is that both the House and Senate versions of the 2022-23 budget come in well under the CTB level.
This is a big win for Texans (see this thread), and it includes rightfully rejecting funding for Medicaid expansion in the budget, which effectively kills this attempt by the left. There are better, more affordable ways to help those in need rather than just providing government-run coverage that does not result in quality, timely care, as market-based reforms that put patients in charge would do.
There are other conservative policy victories in the budget, as well. It defunds some corporate welfare, it requires proposals of some state agency cuts each session, and it improves the process in determining the use of COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government.
Note that we appropriately don’t count these federal funds in our budget calculations because they haven’t been accepted yet (and much if not all with strings attached should be rejected) and should be used for only one-time expenditures to keep from unnecessarily growing government and then falling into the trap like the state did when the federal funds from President Obama dried up.
Now, some are saying that the budget doesn’t provide additional property tax relief for Texas families. That’s true. But it does preserve property tax relief from the last biennium. This is relief just like it was last session, when $5 billion was allocated toward lowering school district M&O property taxes—which meant taxpayers paid less than otherwise.
The $6 billion in this budget is to fund that same 7-cent property tax rate compression because of rising appraisals across the state. If that $6 billion wasn’t in the budget, then property owners would face a 7-cent tax increase and those funds would go to other programs that grow government.
So, the $6 billion is property tax relief by keeping property taxes and the size of government lower than otherwise—that’s certainly better than the alternative.
The next step in the budget process is for the conference committee on the budget to iron out the differences of a gap of $4 billion more in the Senate budget than the House budget, which the amount of expected federal funds is the main difference. This should include continued spending restraint for actual tax cuts and additional tax relief before the end of session.
There are a few key amendments to the budget by the House that lawmakers should keep, including:
Asking state agencies to provide proposed cuts of 1%, 5%, and 10% each session;
Defunding more corporate welfare; and
Improving federal COVID-19 funds determination.
Overall, this approach to the budget is a key part of TPPF’s Responsible Recovery Agenda that will support more growth, job creation, and economic opportunity in Texas.
It’s never hard to tell who the Texans are in a crowd, and in a crowded legislative session, it’s not hard to tell which budgetary decisions are the right ones. They’re the ones that lead to more freedom and more prosperity for Texans like the Legislature looks poised to do.
In Texas, we dream big. That’s what House Bill 59 does—it imagines a Texas that lightens the tax burden on Texans, upholds property rights and ensures that education is properly funded.
Authored by Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, the bill would eliminate the school maintenance and operations portion of your property tax bill on Jan. 1, 2024, and would create a legislative commission that would use the intervening time to study the best way to replace that revenue. This bill would cut local property taxes nearly in half while adhering to the state’s constitutional responsibility of funding government schools.
The key to achieving this, of course, is restraining government spending at the state and local government levels.
The fact is that the skyrocketing local property tax burden remains one of the state’s most pressing policy challenges. Property taxes have been growing faster than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for them. Any growth over population-plus-inflation represents a growth in government above our ability to pay. For more on this formula, which we call the Conservative Texas Budget, click here.
According to the Tax Foundation, Texas has the seventh most burdensome property tax on homeowners. Using a different calculation, Fox News ranks Texas third-worst.
Too many have been forced out of their homes and businesses because of rapidly rising property taxes.
It would be great to eliminate all property taxes, which tend to hurt lower-income earners the most, so Texans can stop effectively renting from the government forever.
A good start in that process would be to eliminate school district M&O property taxes, which account for nearly half of the total property tax burden on Texans. Eliminating just the school district M&O property taxes is rather straightforward because the state determines the funding formulas for the school finance system, and it represents nearly half of the property tax levy across the state.
The question is how to replace this revenue. That’s easy—with a broader-based sales tax.
State sales taxes have grown far less than property taxes, less than personal income, and more closely with population growth plus inflation. This indicates that moving to a system based on the sales tax better aligns with the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for these taxes that fund government spending over time.
There are some important reasons why a sales tax is the better way to fund schools.
First, property taxes are inefficient. Property taxes in Texas are based primarily on subjective valuations by appraisal review boards and tax rates determined by local tax entities with little to no feedback from citizens, creating a highly inefficient collection mechanism.
Next, property taxes are more regressive than sales taxes. Sales taxes are paid once at purchase, yet property taxes are paid annually, hurting low- and fixed-income Texans the most because the costs compound over time. A high property tax also prevents many low-income earners from purchasing their first home and forces many others who do purchase to struggle to keep their home—they may even lose it.
Finally, during recessions (like the recent pandemic), lower-income earners tend to face the highest levels of unemployment and are least able to shoulder a tax burden. Their property tax burden, however, would increase relative to their income, while their sales tax burden would fall more proportionately with their income.
The sales tax is money that comes directly from the choices of consumers. It ensures that all financial power remains within their control, whereas property taxes are a burden that is forced upon all taxpayers with little means of working around it.
It would work—and result in fully funding schools based on the state’s school finance system.
Economists of the Baker Institute at Rice University studied the economic effects of replacing property taxes with sales taxes over time. They found that just a 3.6% decrease in school district M&O property taxes could contribute to a $14.3 billion increase in economic output and 217,000 new jobs after just the first year of reforms and more thereafter. Imagine if we eliminated that burden!
By combining property tax reductions and reform with spending limitations, Texas could shift to a more efficient and fairer sales tax system. In this way, Texans can be assured meaningful, lasting, property tax relief and an improved Texas Model that will sustain economic prosperity for generations.
“Hey Florida! Help is Here.”
That’s how Vice President Kamala Harris recently put a 21st Century spin on Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”
What does this have to do with the Texas budget and House Bill 3548? Let me explain.
The premise of the Vice President’s tweet is that government’s job is to swoop in and solve all of our problems. The premise of Reagan’s quote is that too often, government is the problem—or at least standing in the way of solutions. Reagan was right, of course; government fulfills some necessary functions, but in most cases, more government means less freedom.
That’s why we at the Texas Public Policy Foundation have labored for years to chisel the idea of a Conservative Texas Budget into the hard granite at the Texas state capitol. Our reasoning is clear — people don’t need more government; they need more opportunity. And our simple formula reflects that: The state’s total budget, which is the footprint of government funded by taxpayers, ought not to grow faster than our population growth plus price inflation. This spending limit is reflected in Rep. Matt Krause’s committee substitute for HB 594, which has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.
Growth beyond that equation is an excessive growth of government—meaning bigger state agencies, which inevitably assume more and more regulatory powers to themselves. And a bigger budget also means more taxes, since states (unlike the federal government) can’t hide behind deficit spending. Government shouldn’t grow faster than the citizens’ ability to pay for it.
Now, state Rep. Greg Bonnen, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, has had his HB 3548 referred to that committee. And Sen. Kelly Hancock, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has the companion SB 1336 that will be heard before the Senate Finance Committee (of which he is a member). This legislation would improve the state’s current weak spending limit by expanding the base to all general revenue funds and by changing the growth limit to one closely related to ours of population growth times inflation.
It’s important to note that the Conservative Texas Budget is a ceiling, not a floor. It’s a limit on how much the budget can increase, not a target. There’s no limit on shrinking government, cutting taxes and reducing regulations. That course would be best for Texans, and TPPF has outlined many ways in which lawmakers should do so. Our top 10 legislative priorities for this Session, which we call our Liberty Action Agenda, provides a clear path for legislators to shift power and prosperity back to the people of Texas.
While Chairman Bonnen’s and Sen. Hancock’s legislation would set an improved formula closer to ours into stone and ensure that future Legislatures comply, we are pleased to see that both the House’s and the Senate’s introduced (proposed) budgets fit within our guidelines. Our math says that a total of $246.8 billion in all funds for 2022-2023 would represent a 5% increase over the last biennium, matching the growth in population plus inflation. Both proposed budgets came in under that number after excluding $6 billion toward maintaining property tax relief from last session instead of growing government.
Historically, lawmakers have been too ready to increase the Texas budget and grow government. But in 2015, we introduced the Conservative Texas Budget, giving legislators a clear bar. Prior to this, the average growth rate of the biennial budget from 2004 to 2015 was 12%. With the Conservative Texas Budget in place, the average growth rate was just 5.5%. More importantly, before 2015, the average growth rate of appropriations exceeded that of population plus inflation by almost 5 percentage points, while since then, growth has been limited to an average of almost a full percentage point below population and inflation.
The Conservative Texas Budget provides a path toward responsible state spending. It has proven to be successful at restraining excessive growth in government in the past, and it will continue to do so in the future if followed each session.
That’s why Chairman Bonnen’s and Sen. Hancock’s legislation, which codifies much of the Conservative Texas budget, is so important. It’s the help Texas families truly need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our routines, but it doesn’t change the laws of economics. Yet it seems government is in the business of doing something when it really should do nothing, such as the recent proposals by President Biden and Congress to spend more and raise the federal minimum wage in the name of pandemic relief.
These actions would not only make a bad economic situation worse, especially for the ones the policies are intended to help, but they would destroy the unity that the president says he wants.
We’ve already seen the devastation that government action can cause during the pandemic, as the broad U6 unemployment rate remains at an elevated 11.1% and almost 800,000 people are filing initial jobless claims every week. The government shutdowns are an unfolding tragedy, and we won’t know their full extent for years to come.
But, as usual, there’s another attempt to put a patch on the American economy with an unnecessary, poorly crafted monstrosity of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which includes raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by June 2025.
This boondoggle sends taxpayer money to people through checks when real personal income reached a record high in 2020. Its higher unemployment payments will distort incentives to work. And it will bail out profligate state and local governments when they’ve already received nearly three times more in taxpayer funds than their estimated losses.
Collectively, this package could delay the needed reopening of our economy, the only real path to regain Americans’ taken prosperity.
The focus of a package—if it must be done—should be to get the vaccines out as quickly as possible to open America now so that people can regain their prosperity they had before the pandemic. Better yet, a pro-growth approach of spending restraint, tax relief, and deregulation would be a better federal response.
In fact, the latter two measures (tax relief and deregulation) were practiced by the Trump administration and it contributed to records of the highest real median household income and lowest poverty rate in 2019. And while President Trump’s budgets found more fiscal savings than any other president, Congress continued to spend excessively—thereby bankrupting us and our country in the process.
But what’s getting a lot of media attention recently without much consideration of its cost is the Raise the Wage Act that the Democrats in Congress are trying to push through. This arbitrary hike of the federal minimum wage would be a mistake as it would separate us in terms of economic status and further divide us as a nation. That’s not what I would consider as “unity.”
According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, about two-thirds of Americans supported increasing the minimum wage to $15. But at what cost, given that nothing is free?
For example, the Congressional Budget Office recently reported that passing the Raise the Wage Act could mean as many as 2.7 million workers lose their job and earn the real minimum wage of $0. This would also come at the cost of $54 billion more to the national debt, further bankrupting us. And while the number of people lifted up from poverty could be 900,000, many of them will face higher prices, higher taxes, and higher interest rates making it harder for even those lucky enough to not lose their jobs to make ends meet.
But this analysis misses two key points that should not be overlooked: 58.5% of Americans earning the minimum wage are between 16 to 24 years old, and costs of living vary greatly across states, with California being 50% more expensive than Texas.
This means that those who will be hit hardest by raising the minimum wage are those just trying to get their foot on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, and typically have other sources of income. In fact, raising the minimum wage can benefit high-wage, highly skilled people at the expense of low-wage, low-skill people as employers move from labor to capital in their operations. This actually increases income inequality.
And states that have done a good job in keeping the cost of living low, like Texas (due to more pro-growth policies resulting in increased economic freedom) are hit hardest compared with those that don’t, like California. We should let federalism’s system of “laboratories of democracy” continue to prove that people vote with their feet, as the number of Californians moving to Texas increased by 36% in 2018.
America may still be suffering through the chaos of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean we need more of it. President Biden should give doing nothing a chance, especially his policies that will bankrupt the country and force increased unemployment.
Given the economic situation with many unemployed Texans struggling from business closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions and following recent power outages, the Legislature should consider less spending, taxing, and regulating so Texans have more opportunities to prosper.
Invited testimony submitted to the Texas House Committee on Appropriations – S/C on Article II
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.