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The Astonishing Surplus

As we watch world governments and self proclaimed world leaders convene at venues like Davos in Switzerland or the G20 in Bali, we must painfully concede that these are not working meetings among colleagues, but public relations opportunities for elites, and that their meeting agendas are not for the purposes of holding discussions or debating ideas, but for rolling out foregone conclusions. The white papers, the intelligence reports, the off-books financial arrangements, etc. have long since been inked in their ‘honor among thieves’ modus operandi.


Now it’s all about the spin. The appearance of a process. At these gatherings, we the paupers are introduced as if in real time to what has actually long since been decided, and even implemented.


This presentation of policy with the threadbare veneer of inclusive process is the very definition of railroading. But what a long time indeed it has taken me to realize that this is more or less true of every political gathering and has been happening from the halls of legislatures to the rooms of school boards since time immemorial but with increasing alacrity and ham fisted-ness as the political ‘rule of law’ in our beloved Republic breaks down.


In a corollary to Stalin’s pith instruction that he who counts the votes determines the election’s outcome, we can infer the maxim that he who makes the policy sets the agenda for its presentation. The process is actually reverse engineered from the desired outcome.


And so it is that I began to think about the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature in more concrete and urgent terms. Granted, it is almost 6 months away, but we would be naive to think that the same jockeying for position, back room deals, and less than savory party machinations that inform the G20 are not already well underway in Austin, along with the customary preparations for  committee meetings and the budgetary process.


And those jockeys and lobbyists have just gotten a massive injection of steroids. It has come to light that Texas has a fundamental, even existential conundrum to consider: what to do with the “astonishing” haul of surplus cash that Texas has amassed as a result of its exponential economic growth.


There’s a lot to unpack here. First, the vital takeaway that Texas economics work. We are favorable to energy, small business, innovation, and not so much to regulation. Guess what? We were right! And good for us. But after we congratulate ourselves (which we should certainly do), the soul searching begins. It’s as if we’d been wage slaves all our lives and suddenly won the lottery. The burning question would now be, “what do we really want?”


For that is the precise position we find ourselves in now, and the answers we arrive at will only be as good as the quality of our introspection. We need that process of looking inward at our collective values as Texans before we are ready to put forth legislative answers to the big question: What the hell do we do with billions of excess taxpayer cash?


To back into this with a little context, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar presented an economic update to state lawmakers at a meeting of the Texas House Appropriations Committee last week. According to his report, the Texas economy has been exceptionally strong since November of last year. Hegar said,We will be releasing a revised report on Thursday. … But I am going to warn you … stay seated in your seat when you read it. It is astonishing growth.”


I can see exactly how he was trying to manage the expectations of those legislators who believe that taxpayer dollars are their private slush funds. According to Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, “some lawmakers at Tuesday’s meeting already revealed their intentions to spend the money on pet projects.”


So this is where I think Texas Fights Outloud encourages us to get out ahead of the narrative. We want to shape this discussion, craft it and guide it, rather than be forced into a reactionary position. The surplus belongs to us. That much is clear and irrefutable. Following that assumption, it is up to us to determine what we would like to do with it, and this leads to what I call the ‘soul searching’ process we must engage immediately.


Texans for Fiscal Responsibility President Tim Hardin says the decision should be simple: give it back to Texans by eliminating property taxes. Texans are now paying the sixth-highest property tax bills in the United States, and those bills have increased by 181 percent in the last 20 years. There’s something to that, particularly considering that property taxes fund woke public education that is an anathema to many tax payers.


But there are far larger questions at play. What do we envision for our State in the next 10 to 20 years? What resources will we need to implement that vision? Knowing that we have an enviable surplus as we head into an inevitable recession or even depression, what would be the most wise course of action to protect our economy and the economic well being of Texans? What role does border security play in this scenario? Or the burgeoning secession movement?


Look, nobody in Austin wants to ask these questions. Their bread and butter is business as usual. I understand that, and that is precisely why I will not ask them to set such a far reaching agenda. Instead, I will ask we the people of Texas to do it. We will not allow the politicians to set the terms of policy then reverse engineer its presentation to us under the guise of legislative process.


No. We will determine the course of legislative action to pursue as a result of our deliberations. For it is our character as Texans that determines that course. I personally believe property tax relief has a very real place in our deliberations, but it is not the only responsible conclusion at which to arrive. There are many deeper questions that engage us at the very lifeblood of what it means to be a Texan, for it is this lifeblood, make no mistake, that generated this “astonishing” surplus in the first place.


This week we ask our audience, those who want to fight outloud, to search their souls and their values. What would we do, as Texans, if we won the lottery. Because the truth is, we just did.