If It Looks Like a Duck, Quacks Like a Duck...
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
April 17, 2003
Much has been made about the professed pledge of our Texas Legislature now meeting in Austin to cut billions from the State budget across the board and to not enact so-called "new taxes". I love to save money in our County wherever possible and have held or cut tax rates for each of the last four years. What the Legislature is not saying to the people of Texas is that the State of Texas and local governments rely principally on two of the more regressive taxes known to man, the sales and property taxes. Regressive means the less money you make the more these taxes represent as a percentage of your budget and vice versa.
So, when the hooping and the hollering about how fiscally conservative or financially sound the Legislature has been with your money, think of them also as having mandated the local units of government to undertake the dodged responsibility of doing what the State has always previously done. The County, the City, local school districts and other special districts will not be able to elude serious responsibilities so easily! Again, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. What the Legislature is planning to pass looks like a tax, quacks like a tax…
If the Legislature makes good on its stated intent, sales and property taxes will be further escalated at the local levels of government to make up for cuts of essential services by the State. According to the Texas Center for Public Policy Priorities, "The Texas Legislature is facing a budget crisis of enormous proportions. Legislative budget writers have $7.4 billion less state revenue available for 2004-05 than the current biennium and more than $15 billion less revenue than needed just to keep current state services "treading water." Despite this shortfall our leadership has promised to "balance" the budget with no new taxes and state agencies have been directed to cut their current budgets by 7% and present budget proposals for 2004-05 with of 12.5% cuts."
Here in Bexar County, we will continue to do the following and more:
- Stop renting buildings into eternity and start owning them!
- Hire an Energy Manager for the County and begin reducing electricity bills by 5% per year---realize reduced annual consumption from $7 million to about $5 million by conservation and use of renewable solar energy. To begin this process, I just successfully obtained $25,000 from each of the Department of Energy and the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) for our County Energy Manager!
- Constantly watch the jail population.
- Increase collection of court costs and fines.
- Fight unfunded mandates of higher levels of government - State & Federal.
The fifth item, to fight unfunded mandates at the State level is like the others, a never-ending task. Last session, the Legislature replaced our lawyer-financed indigent defense mechanism called the San Antonio Plan administered by the San Antonio Bar with an unfunded mandate of around a million dollars to Bexar County taxpayers annually! This Session could make last Session's unfunded mandates look small.
For a very long time, the State has housed its prisoners who are on parole but who violate conditions of parole, in our County Jail. Not only do they stay free of charge, they are tough inmates to house since they have already done "hard time" in the State prison system. Additionally, the Texas Jail Standards Commission penalizes us for having too many prisoners even though its free-of-charge prisoners contribute to the bloated population!
The reality is that the Legislature is planning to pass a walloping tax vicariously through the local units of government, which will be duty bound to pick up what are effectively essential services. Simply put, prisoners must be dealt with appropriately so as to safeguard the public; the mental health population must be treated with mental health approaches, not merely being thrown into a revolving door at the Jail; the children must be educated and medical research at the Health Science Center must go on if we are to enjoy the quality of life we have come to expect.