Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Some at the Capitol think... there won’t be political consequences, as long as individual members don’t take bad votes on those issues."

Republicans should recall their campaign issues


by William Lutz

Lone Star Report
Volume 11, Issue 31
Copyright 2007

Remember back in 1997 when Speaker Pete Laney and his lieutenants played games with the bill that required parental notice before a minor has an abortion?

The House’s top brass used every procedural game in the book to kill this legislation, even though it had widespread popular support and a majority of the House co-sponsored the bill.

Republicans were rightly frustrated and furious. The bill’s defeat galvanized the GOP inside and outside the Capitol. (It became law two years later.)

Unfortunately, history has a way of repeating itself.

In 2006, Republican candidates heard loudly and clearly from Texans that they want something done about illegal immigration, have concerns about toll roads, and are fed up with spiraling property taxes. The party listened, and its candidates promised to address these issues.

Many GOP legislators are working diligently to keep those campaign promises. Yet three months into the legislative session, all proposed remedies seem in danger of getting chewed up by the legislative sausage mill.

Let’s take a look at each issue in turn.

Immigration. The business lobby is telling lawmakers that the best state action on the immigration issue is no action at all.

Unfortunately, it appears some businesses and industries out there enhance their short-term profits by exploiting low-wage illegal labor.

While some limited legal immigration – properly structured – can yield benefits, the grass-roots base of the party also understands that illegal immigration increases the cost of government services and imposes a hidden tax on all those here legally. It also hurts the job prospects of those who play by the rules – forcing them to accept lower wages, if they can find a job at all.

Some at the Capitol simply want to put some more money into border security, pass a resolution bashing the feds, and maybe a couple of token bills, then go home.

That’s certainly not what most Republicans promised in their campaigns, and it’s certainly not what the Republican platform says.

The vast majority of GOP primary voters want the Legislature to take action to ensure that Texas will not give government goodies to people who break our laws, and clearly state that people who want to come to America should do official business in English and try to become Americans.

Taxes. The Legislature actually has a better record on this issue, largely because of the excellent property tax relief measures passed in 2006. Still, keeping property taxes low means empowering taxpayers with new tools to ensure that their tax cuts are not eroded in five years by appraisal and local spending increases.

Remember when more than 90 percent of Republican primary voters said they wanted appraisal caps, and remember when more than 90 percent of Republican primary voters said they wanted it to be easier to rollback local tax increases? Some legislators seem not rot to remember at all. So far,neither appraisal caps nor revenue caps have even gotten a committee hearing in either house.

Some are unsure the votes are there to pass tough taxpayer protection measures. This is not a legitimate concern. If 76 House members and 16 Senators want to vote for higher property taxes and more spending on local government services, that is certainly their prerogative. But they should have to take that stand publicly, and then next year, the voters can decide whether to retain them.

Toll roads. This is perhaps the best parallel to the parental notification fight in 1997. There are many excellent bills to fix a lot of the problems in this area. One of them, HB 2772 by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), has 111 co-authors (as of March 29). It has also been endorsed by the State Republican Executive Committee.

The bill would declare a moratorium for two years on comprehensive development agreements, which allow private companies to operate toll roads in Texas in exchange for an up-front concession fee. During that period, the Legislature will study the issue.

During the last election, legislators got an earful from constituents on the Trans-Texas Corridor, toll roads, and comprehensive development agreements.

Will the leadership give the full Texas House an opportunity to debate these issues or will the powers that be abuse House procedures to keep these measures off the House floor?

Among Republican activists, there is growing frustration with the inaction on their top priorities. Some at the Capitol think it’s OK to do business as the Democrats did and bottle up measures favored by most Texans in committee. They think – as Laney did – that there won’t be political consequences, as long as individual members don’t take bad votes on those issues.

In 2006, the Republicans in Congress found out the hard way that – yes – there are political consequences when the base of a party is demoralized.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of time left in the legislative session, where lawmakers can take action on these issues and further justify the confidence placed in them by the voters.

That way, the frustration that many Texans felt over the way the Democratic leadership mishandled the parental notification bill won’t reappear this year.

© 2007 The Lone Star Report:

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