Texas Republicans plot new ways to raise your taxes

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Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./Texas Tribune

Update 5/7: The GOP tax hike proposal is dead.

“The world has gone mad today

And good’s bad today,

And black’s white today,

And day’s night today…”

In the words of the great Cole Porter, anything goes.  

With just a few weeks remaining in the 86th regular session of the Texas Legislature, it’s crunch time. And despite the lofty goals from ruling Republicans of both lowering residential property taxes and reforming an unsustainable school finance system, reality seems to be harshing their mellow.

Yes, for all the kumbaya that kicked off session, turns out fixing the state’s largest and most expensive public policy problems is, well, hard.

Not quite a month ago the Texas triumvirate — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — shocked the political world (and shivved their conservative brethren) by proposing a 1-cent increase in the state’s sales tax, already one of the nation’s highest.

The idea was to swap a regressive tax increase in the sales tax, which would predominantly hurt poor Texans, for a tax break to wealthier homeowners. The Lege would put it on the ballot for voters to decide, right? Yeah, no.

After picking its collective jaw up off the floor at a GOP-proposed tax increase, the far right went nuts in opposition. Democrats, recognizing a nicely wrapped 2020 political gift delivered early, laughed and said no way. And in this case, Democrats matter. To put the tax hike on the ballot Republicans need a supermajority in both chambers, which is especially a problem in the Texas House where they hold only an 83-67 seat advantage, but need 100 votes.

Fast forward a few weeks to today, and the Big GOP Three were right back in front of the cameras, trying to put lipstick on that tax hike pig. Sensing they may not have the votes to get the measure on the ballot for voters, state leaders are apparently now contemplating a simple majority vote in the Legislature to raise sales taxes in exchange for modest property tax relief.

With just nine seats needed for Democrats to take control of the Texas House next year, and 20 or more potentially vulnerable Republican members sweating possible primary and general election opponents, how many of them want to go on the record this session voting for a tax increase of any kind? We may be about to find out.

The Grand Old Party that once sought to make government small enough to drown in a bathtub is now looking for new ways to raise Texans’ taxes. Anything goes, indeed.

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