Sunday, November 04, 2007

Four of the 16 porposed amendments would allow the state to borrow a total of $9.25 billion

Another day older and what do you get?

November 04, 2007

Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2007

This is what it has come to: Texas leaders fearful of levying taxes to do the work they knows is needed on everything from highways to prisons and state park facilities decided this year or resort to deficit spending — and lots of it.

They just don't call it that because, after all, that would violate provisions of the Texas Constitution. So instead of violating the constitution, we amend it — and amend it and amend it and amend it.

In recent weeks, I wrote several editorials on the constitutional amendments that Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature are asking us to approve Tuesday. We endorsed almost all of the amendments. But as I reviewed each of the amendments it dawned on me that a quarter of the 16 propositions would allow the state to borrow a total of $9.25 billion.

Any way you look at it, that's a lot of borrowing. Let's hope that the state doesn't fall for some sub-prime mortgage shtick.

The irritating thing about all of this is that the biggest chunk of borrowing — the $5 billion in transportation bonds that are proposed in Proposition 12 — might not have been necessary if lawmakers had been willing in years past to set the state gas tax at a rate that would sustain the repairs and construction needed on Texas highways and bridges. Instead, they shirked their duties and deferred much needed work to the point that we are nearing a crisis on our state roads.

Just ask state Sen. Kevin Eltife, the Tyler Republican who represents East Texas in Austin. He's well known for his conservative fiscal policies as the former mayor of Tyler, yet he is vocal about the fact that it is past time for the state to increase the gas tax to better reflect today's economy and today's needs throughout Texas. Talk to him sometime, and you'll begin to understand that getting the job done effectively and economically is a conservative approach, even if it requires new tax revenues.

Yes, the Longview News-Journal endorsed Proposition 12 and I'll vote "yes" when I go to the polls on Tuesday because I believe Texas does need to get to work on its highways and bridges without a massive expansion of Perry's toll road vision. But I resent the fact that if Texas leaders had really been looking out for their constituents' needs, we wouldn't have to tackle road projects in a manner that requires a heavy debt load and big interest payments.

The same can be said of Proposition 4, which calls for the state to issue $1 billion in bonds for a wide array of purposes, including repairs and improvements at state parks that have been shortchanged and neglected for the better part of a decade.

Just about the only "optional" proposal to borrow money comes in Proposition 15, the one that would authorize the state to issue up to $3 billion in bonds during the next 10 years to create and support the efforts of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. It's hard to vote against an all-out assault on cancer, but some people will simply not support it because they believe the federal government should fund comprehensive cancer research.

If we intend to make Texas the leader in the war against cancer, we could probably afford to do it on a pay-as-you-go basis. Just because Perry wants to borrow the money to launch this initiative doesn't mean we won't have to pay for it through taxes. It's just a matter of when.

Under strong leadership, that would have been sooner rather than later.

Pete Litterski is senior editor of the Longview News-Journal. E-mail:

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