Prefer a cup of coffee or better roads?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Certainly, there are clear political benefits to cutting taxes this legislative session. Less clear, though, are the benefits individual taxpayers would receive from the various proposed cuts being bandied about in the Legislature.

As recent analyses in the Express-News and the Texas-Tribune have shown, the billions of dollars in tax relief lawmakers are debating will translate into a few hundred bucks for individual taxpayers.

For example, a proposal to cut the sales tax by $2.3 billion over the next two years would translate into savings of $172 a year for a family of four.

Under a Senate plan, cutting school property taxes by $2.15 billion over the next two years by increasing the homestead exemption would save the average homeowner about $200 a year.

These are separate proposals from business tax cuts, and the numbers merit proper framing.

Yes, for many families, $200 can be a real difference maker. That’s a week of groceries. School supplies. Clothes. Only, these are savings spread out over a year, not in a lump sum. That makes it more like an extra cup of coffee or two a week. It’s spare change. That’s what Texas lawmakers are returning to you.

Just a hunch, but if you asked Texans if they would like their taxes lowered by $200 a year, most would say yes. But here’s another hunch: If you asked Texans if they would rather have their taxes lowered by $4 a week or have the state instead spend billions on our roads and schools, you would likely get a different answer. The benefits of passing on that extra cup of coffee to properly fund roads and schools are obvious. Just ask anyone who drives Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin each day.

Occasionally, this reasonable view has been expressed this session.

“You’ve got pensions, you’ve got water, you’ve got transportation, we’re in the courthouse over public education,” Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, recently told Express-News journalist Peggy Fikac. “I want to see that we meet these needs before we talk about tax cuts.”

And a number of leading Texas business groups have asked the Legislature to act wisely during these flush times.

“With the state in excellent fiscal shape, we encourage the Legislature to wisely deploy our healthy surplus and ensure that Texans have the infrastructure and skills for our economy to continue to thrive,” says a letter from Texas’ biggest business associations to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. “Once that is assured, we encourage the Legislature to give consideration to tax relief.”

They were writing about business tax cuts, of course. But the same thinking applies to these other proposed tax cuts.

Before lawmakers give Texans a little spare change, they should invest in the roads and schools that Texans deserve.


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