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SAEN: Candidates avoid 'T' (tax) word

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  • mkworkman
    Candidates avoid T word http://www.mysanantonio.com/expressnews/story.cfm? xla=saen&xlb=400&xlc=751524 By Peggy Fikac Chief, Express-News Austin Bureau Web
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 6, 2002
      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
      said recently.

      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
      the campaign."

      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
      deficit reduction.

      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
      endorsed Perry.

      "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."
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