At the risk of opening a Pandora’s box that I’ll soon regret, could any thinking Texan that supports seceding from the union drop me a line and tell me what gives?
Weren’t Texas Republicans the folks that made patriotic bravado a prerequisite for political office? Wasn’t it Bush and Rove and then Perry that made the most important tenet of their political philosophy loving ‘Murica in all her glory?
So you may have to forgive my confusion that we have once again found ourselves discussing the erstwhile prospects for Texas leaving the union after state Rep. Kyle Biedermann filed a bill to put the choice before the voters of Texas, and state Republican Party Chair Allen West endorsed holding just such a vote in protest over just how prolific President “Sleepy” Joe Biden has been with executive actions designed to undo the damage of the Trump years.
That last part should be remarkable enough: the chair of a mainstream state political party supports letting Texans decide if they continue being part of the United States of America, or if we split the sheets and become an independent nation.
It is, let’s face it, mind-blowingly stupid.
I try not to use words like stupid when describing the opinions of conservative “thought” leaders in Texas, as they’ve proven their penchant for being the biggest snowflakes on the planet repeatedly, but we really shouldn’t let this one pass without calling it what it is.
Politicians like Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov Dan Patrick and, to a lesser extent for a Florida native, Allen West, love to talk up what a great state to do business in Texas is, how great our workforce is, and how our low-tax and almost no-regulation business environment can be a boon for companies that are tired of dealing with pesky things like income taxes and environmental protections.
Fiscal responsibility, Republicans tell us, is the key. Fiscal responsibility, it turns out, is the first lie that flies out the window if a Texit were to go down.
A state’s budget is both a wickedly complicated and exceedingly simple proposition that comes down to one thing: cash flow. However much money a state takes in per year covers a certain percentage of every state’s budget, with the federal government kicking in various forms of aid that usually close budget gaps.
Some states are more reliant on that aid than others for closing budget gaps. On the low end, states like Wisconsin and Virginia might use federal funds to cover 17-18 percent of their overall budgets, with states more dependent on federal aid registering in the 35 to 40 percent range some years. Looking at these numbers is instructive in a number of ways, but one of the most interesting things you’ll find is that red states tend to be more reliant on the federal government than blue states, contradicting what you might expect from the fiscal responsibility wing of the Republican Party that still wants a federal government small enough to drown in the bathtub.
Texas, for our part, usually lands in the middle of the curve, using fed money to plug anywhere from 25 to 35 percent of our annual budgets, usually bringing a return of fewer than 90 cents for every dollar of federal tax revenue generated by Texans.
Those numbers are, frankly, not good. While it may not be popular with their base, Republican members of Congress are keenly aware of the economic impact federal budget decisions have on their districts, and the most ideologically inflexible Republicans often leave millions to hundreds of millions of dollars on the table that could be used for a range of important projects like Medicaid expansion or transportation and infrastructure projects. The more money that comes down from the feds, the less reliant we need to be on Texas tax revenues to meet our budget needs.
And let’s talk about those tax revenues. Make no mistake, while Greg Abbott and a host of Republican politicians usually beat their chests and cheer the news of whatever company moving to Austin or Dallas or Houston, those relocations usually come with thick purse strings attached. Property tax rebates, economic development grants, even selective enforcement of city, county, and state code are all on the table for businesses interested in calling Texas home, often taking money directly out of cash-strapped municipalities and school districts in the process.
So, if Texas were to jump ship on the United States you would be dealing with a startling day one impact: the loss of up to 35 percent of its budget revenue. It is unlikely in the best case that the federal government will continue sending payments to a state that is no longer part of it, creating an almost immediate cash crunch for the mythical New Texas (I think we’ll call it that for now).
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the economic ripple effect is likely to touch almost every Texan in some respect. A business that operates across state lines will be forced to operate as a foreign entity, goods produced in Texas would be subject to the same customs laws other foreign corporations are required to comply with, and a new spiderweb of taxes and regulations will be imposed on businesses and citizens that want to be able to do business with their clients in states that remain in the union.
Shifting that focus away from corporations, what would it mean for the people of Texas? Will seniors who choose to remain in Texas after the Texit lose their Social Security savings? How will out of work Texans, a number that exploded during the coronavirus pandemic as state tax revenues plummeted 15 percent, receive jobless benefits? What happens to their stimulus payments or tax refunds?
What happens to the nearly three million acres of land owned by the federal government? Does Big Bend just belong to New Mexico now?
Perhaps even more crucially, how would this theoretical New Texas handle things like disaster management or pandemic response? We all saw firsthand how ineffective Abbott and other state leaders have been at responding to COVID-19. Why in the world would we let these folks run an entire nation’s response? How many Texans are still rebuilding from Ike, much less Harvey? And how will the same group of politicians who give us crocodile tears and tell us they’re still waiting for the federal government to help possibly respond to a hurricane?
In a political world rife with half baked ideas, Texit is perhaps the most underdone in the bunch. It would destroy the Texas economy, hurt working folks and make fools of us all. The only positive it may have on offer? At least Ted Cruz would lose his Senate seat.