SAEN: Candidates avoid 'T' (tax) word
- Candidates avoid 'T' word
By Peggy Fikac
Chief, Express-News Austin Bureau
Web Posted : 07/06/2002 12:00 AM
AUSTIN Prominent Democrat Ben Barnes, who months ago spoke
passionately of spurring an election-year discussion on the need to
increase taxes to improve key state services, hasn't made the high-
profile speech he'd planned to get the debate rolling.
Barnes said he wasn't waved off the subject by loyalists to
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez, who is in a heated
contest with GOP Gov. Rick Perry. He said he's been busy and still
plans to address the subject.
But the former lieutenant governor, a Sanchez supporter and
nationally known Democratic fund-raiser, is acutely aware that the
subject's a hot one. And he doesn't want his candidate to get burned.
"I don't want to make this campaign about Rick Perry saying, 'Ben
Barnes said that and so that means Tony Sanchez is for it.' That's
not fair. I can't speak for Tony Sanchez," Barnes said. "I do not
want my remarks to be an issue in the governor's race, and that's
what the Republicans will do."
Some Democratic senators without GOP opponents have been bold,
proposing tax increases on cigarettes and soft drinks to bolster
health care and meals for school children.
But not in the governor's race, where the three-letter word might as
well be a four-letter profanity.
With the state facing a predicted $5 billion budget gap and Perry and
Sanchez each offering proposals to shore up key state programs, each
fends off talk of new taxes and accuses the other of fiscal
Sanchez "proposed a budget-busting $7 billion education plan that he
cannot explain and which he refuses to say how he will fund," Perry
Perry slammed as "just bunk" Sanchez's talk of combing the budget for
waste to answer the state's fiscal woes. He said Sanchez "does not
have a clue about the state budget."
As for his own budget plans, Perry asked state agencies to find
savings, cited a history of setting spending priorities and said
flatly, "We are not going to need tax hikes to keep our budget
Sanchez, defending his budget-scrubbing proposal, contended Perry "is
probably the only American citizen that I know of that claims that
there is no waste by government."
"If he's not going to look for inefficiencies to try to find funding,
and he's not going to look for waste to try to find funding, what's
he going to do?" Sanchez asked. "He's got to tell us. I don't think
the people of Texas want somebody to sneak up on 'em and say, 'We've
got to have now a massive tax bill.' He should have said that during
Sanchez's own position is that taxes are off the table for discussion
during the campaign.
"There may be enough inefficiencies and enough waste in government
that we would not have to even look at added sources of revenue. And
we're not even going to get the final numbers until right before the
next (legislative) session," he said.
Similarly, Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said any talk of possible
cuts in nonpriority spending "is all speculative until the
comptroller gives the Legislature and state leaders revenue
projections at the outset of the 2003 session."
While the future is cloudy, each is happy to point to his foe's past.
Sanchez targets a $5.7 billion tax measure supported by Perry and
approved in 1987, when Perry was a lawmaker and before he changed
from the Democratic to Republican Party. That increase was signed
into law by then-Gov. Bill Clements, a Republican who during his
campaign had pledged "no new taxes."
Perry's camp says Texas was then in crisis.
The GOP campaign built a campaign ad around a slam that Sanchez
supported Clinton's 1993 tax plan. Sanchez has said he supported
All the heat leaves an advocate for low-income Texans looking for a
bit of light.
This year could be a chance to educate Texans about the tax issue,
said Eva De Luna Castro, budget analyst for the nonprofit,
nonpartisan Center for Public Policy Priorities.
"People don't tend to really follow what state government does unless
there's an election going on. That opportunity is lost, to explain to
people, 'This is what I'm running for. This is what I will do, and
this is why you need to support these improvements in our state
standard of living,'" she said. "It's mostly a missed opportunity to
help people understand.
"If you're going to spend all that money on advertising," she
added, "I guess it would be better to say something."
Even if there are no state tax increases, De Luna Castro said, that
doesn't mean people won't pay more.
"I think what will happen if the state does nothing at its end, is
local property taxes will continue to go up" to pay for services, she
said. A tax lid also leaves other areas vulnerable to increases, such
as fees and higher education tuition, she said.
"I guess they'll get creative in what they're calling a tax," she
said, "and use a lot more smoke and mirrors."
But both candidates are considered correct on the issue by Bill
Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, which has
"I think both of them are headed in the right direction," he said.
The projected $5 billion budget gap should be viewed in the context
of the $113 billion, two-year state budget, he said.
"That's around 4 percent, and I don't think there is a business out
there that hasn't had to at some point in its history cut its budget
in excess of 4 percent. There are definitely things out there that
could be done to reduce the cost of state government," he said.
Voters also have to take responsibility, added De Luna Castro.
"You can't elect somebody and then chew them out two years later when
you don't get everything you want without having to pay for it."