David Dewhurst vs. Reality

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David Dewhurst sounded like a bleeding-heart liberal at times during his inaugural speech today on the south steps of the Capitol.

In his speech, Dewhurst promised that Texans would have a “world-class education.”

He vowed to “help those who have no one else to help them, to ensure that the promise of opportunity is available to all without favoring the few.”

He reminded the audience to never forget the most “vulnerable in our society— helpless, hopeless, jobless. I want everybody—everybody—to have the opportunity to be all they can be. The best investments that we can do are investments that give Texans the tools for self-sufficiency: A world-class education, quality, affordable health care, a stable dependable business climate…. These are the kinds of investments that we must make in good times and in bad.”

He promised just about everything—except a way to pay for it all.

True to his fiscal conservatism, Dewhurst declared, “We’ll achieve all these goals. And did I mention? We’ll balance our budget without raising taxes.”

I must be missing something. But how can we pay for all these goodies and close a $27 billion budget gap without raising taxes?

The answer is we can’t. Cutting $27 billion from the budget will have very real, very harmful consequences for the state.

(By the way, Gov. Rick Perry made a similarly odd statement in his speech, as my colleague Abby Rapoport chronicled in this post: “As Texans, we always take care of the least among our population—the frail, the young, the elderly. The people on fixed income. Those in situations of abuse and neglect. We’ve always done that. People whose needs are greater than the resources at their disposal. They can count on the people of Texas to be there for them. We’re going to protect them, support them, empower them. But we cannot risk the future of millions of taxpayers in the process. We must cut spending to keep our economic engine on track.”)

If Dewhurst and Perry want to argue that it’s better to keep taxes low and skimp on services, fair enough. That fits with the conservative ideology on which they were elected. But it’s simply not possible to cut state spending by a fourth and still provide “opportunity” for the vulnerable in our society.

If we cut our way to a balanced budget, some of those vulnerable people will be left to fend for themselves and end up living under bridges. It’s just how the system works. We can either pay for services or hold on to our tax money. Those are the options. There isn’t a magical third solution—not for a budget deficit this big. We can’t trick our way out of it or find $27 billion worth of “efficiencies,” because they don’t exist. And if we choose to hold on to our tax money, the vulnerable that Dewhurst professed to care so much about will be harmed.

To pretend otherwise is wishful thinking.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.