Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Taxpayers Are Asking for a Bill of Rights

This is from the conservative "Texans for Texas" website

Taxpayers Are Asking for a Bill of Rights
Peggy Venable - Texas Director Americans for Prosperity


As the Texas legislature convenes its new session, a study released last week by Americans for Prosperity-Texas reveals that Texas' recent $10 billion budget crisis could have been prevented if the state budget had grown commensurate to population increase and inflation.
Budget shortfalls have been commonplace in economic hard times.  Many states raise taxes, and taxpayers are forced to turn more of their hard-earned money over the government at a time the family is likely facing their own budget shortfall. 
A taxpayer revolt has been underway since 1971 when then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan proposed Prop 1, the nation's first tax and expenditure limit.  It didn't pass, but pave the way for a movement which continues to grow. Today, 26 states have expenditure limits, but some, like the Texas 1978 Constitutional Amendment, lack the teeth needed to limit the growth of government relative to population and the economy.
The most effective has been the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights which limits spending to population increases and inflation, was deemed a Prop 1 look-alike by noted economist and Nobel Prize recipient Milton Freedman.

Currently, about 12 states are considering a Taxpayer Bill of Rights.  Americans for Prosperity is nationally leading the effort to get these measures passed at the state, federal and local levels.

Legislation will be filed by taxpayer advocate Rep. Carl Isett (R-Lubbock). 

What this could mean to Texas is addressed in a study issued last week, "A Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) for Texas."  The report reveals that the state would have amassed $10.9 billion in surpluses since 1991 and that the largest Texas budget shortfall would have been less than $2 billion – a fraction of the $10 billion which created a major budget crisis in 2003.
Additionally, Texas taxpayers would have received $4.7 billion in tax relief and rebates, and that $5.4 billion would have been invested in a budget stabilization fund to better handle revenue shortfalls.  The report was written by Americans for Prosperity's Distinguished Scholar Dr. Barry Poulson, the nation's leading expert on the issue.
A Taxpayer's Bill of Rights is a state constitutional amendment that would limit the annual growth in government. Under a Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, state expenditures and debt could not grow faster than the rate of population growth plus inflation. Surplus revenue received above this amount would accrue in a budget stabilization fund and a portion would be returned to taxpayers. Voter approval would be required for tax increases or spending above the amount of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights limit. 
The American Legislative Exchange Council has endorsed the measure and has model legislation which is being considered in a number of states.
For a summary of the study and to access the full report, go to:
Peggy Venable's Rantings
Texans for a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (Texans for TABOR) has been created to allow citizens to sign up to help pass a taxpayer bill of rights.  Citizens can support TABOR by signing onto a citizen petition .
It's about time Ted and Tammy Taxpayer have specific taxpayer rights designed to limit the growth of government and return revenue surpluses to taxpayers. 
After all, Texas has a surplus which is being called a puny $6.4 billion.”
Let's remember that a surplus exists because jobs are being created, the economy is improving, and legislators made some tough decisions last session and balanced a budget with a $10 billion deficit.  
Now Texas legislators have another daunting task. With the pressure of a court order (due to a lawsuit funded using our tax dollars), legislators must replace a portion of the local property taxes which pay for schools with state dollars. 
And legislators want to provide a property tax cut.
It will reportedly take replacing about $5.5 billion from the property tax cut and Senate leaders also want to boost funding for public education by $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year for various reforms.  The Center for Public Policy Priorities (a big-government advocacy group supporting a state income tax) is claiming Texans need to pony up an additional $7 billion.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has released the biennial revenue estimate, saying a scant $400 million extra will be available after meeting current spending levels of state government over the next two years.  She is also calling for more money for education. 
Ted and Tammy Taxpayer may be scrubbing their home budgets, and likely expect government to do the same.  The Taxpayers may be surprised to know that only 50 cents of each education dollar gets to the classroom and most school districts have as many non-teaching staff as they have teachers.  Taxpayers are also outraged to learn that some superintendent bonuses are the size of the highest paid teachers' salary. Taxpayers should expect schools administrators to reduce overhead and focus more dollars on the kids. 
Some taxpayers realize that school districts are the largest employers in many communities. But few Texans realize that the largest city in the state lists their biggest employer as the school district. Yes, Houston ISD boasts 31,500 employees, and less than half of those are teachers. Yes, the student-teacher ration is 17-1 and the student-staff ratio is a shameful 8-1. A website designed to Take Back Texas Government has focused on waste, fraud and abuse in school districts.

Examples of wasteful and exorbitant spending are available in every community and at all levels of government.
It’s time taxpayers demand that government – federal, state, local and school districts —eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.  We should expect government to be good stewards of our tax dollars.  A Taxpayer Bill of Rights would force governments to set spending priorities and grow only proportionate with population increases and inflation.  Additionally, government would need to get approval from taxpayers to increase spending above that level.

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