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Anchors Aweigh on Texas Politics

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When it comes to the most important issues facing the nation, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, the economy is number one,  while in Texas respondents listed immigration and border security as their top concerns.

Pretty astounding, considering that we have anywhere from an $11 billion to $20 billion deficit hole in our great state. Apparently, during election season it does pay to get suited up in your best fatigues for your photo-op along the border rather than don a business suit to sit down with a bunch of eggheads around a conference table and tackle our mammoth deficit. Accounting just isn’t sexy.

That’s why we have Ms. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, all dolled up in army fatigues for her photo ops this election cycle and jawing about “terror babies” on cable television any chance she gets. Crazy? Nah. Crazy like a fox in a foxhole, is more like it.  It’s a whole lot easier to ratchet up the rhetoric on immigration—where the state has a limited role, then come up with a solution to pull us out of our budget free fall, which was all the Legislature’s and Perry’s doing.

Last March, the Observer had a story called “Perry’s fiscal flim-flam” about the Perry-created budget deficit. The “Perry-Sharp plan” was an especially fine specimen of the smoke and mirrors type of financing the Texas Legislature so admires. And so, it was rubber stamped by our wise, state leaders back in 2006.

During a 2006 press conference,  Perry told us it would provide a $15.7 billion property tax cut: “If Texans want a fairer and broader business tax without loopholes, a stable source of revenue for our children’s education, and substantial property tax relief, then we’ve got a plan that works for them.”

His plan turned out to be a hodgepodge of taxes including a business income tax, a tax increase on cigarettes and closing a tax loophole on used-car sales. Since then, just about everyone has found a loophole to get out of the tax, with the exception of smokers. A majority of the revenue is now generated by the $1 dollar cigarette tax.

Now we’ve got a $4.6 billion hole generated every year because of this brilliant “plan”. The feds that Perry so despises in his campaign saved his hide last budget cycle with $14 billion in stimulus funds. But the money won’t be flowing this time around like it did before. The timing however, is superb for Perry. Because the budget numbers won’t hit the fan until January when the State Comptroller releases her figures. Then we’ll realize just how deep the budget hole is.

There are scary things going on just across the border in Mexico, no doubt. But it will be a whole lot scarier if we can’t afford to pay our law enforcement or our teachers, for that matter, on this side of the Rio Grande.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.