They Pander, You Pay

by Published on

Texas Republicans love to call themselves fiscal conservatives. But is it fiscally conservative to spend millions in taxpayer money addressing “emergencies” that don’t exist?

Republican legislators, prodded by Gov. Rick Perry, have pushed through “emergency” legislative items to ban so-called sanctuary cities, require women to undergo an invasive ultrasound procedure before abortions and make voters show photo ID at the polls. The three bills curry favor with social conservatives. As moderate and progressive legislators have protested—correctly—they represent government overreach at its worst. But one aspect of this culture-war pander-fest has been largely ignored: the cost.

It’s a given that, if passed, all three bills will be heavily litigated on constitutional grounds. It’s ironic that a political party that champions lawsuit reform could generate so much fodder for lawsuits. And litigation isn’t cheap.

Arizona is expected to spend upwards of $10 million defending its own harsh anti-immigrant law in court. Last summer, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had to start a donation fund to keep paying the attorney expenses, which have already surpassed $500,000.

A sonogram bill similar to the one currently flying through the Texas Legislature has been litigated in state courts in Oklahoma since 2009. In the last two years, Oklahoma’s attorney general has spent hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars on the case. Then-governor Brad Henry had the good sense to veto an ultrasound bill last spring. (The veto was overriden.) Not only was it an “unconstitutional invasion of privacy,” he said, it would also needlessly squander state funds. “You have to be careful about blindly passing legislation that you know will be challenged and very likely will be determined unconstitutional, because that costs taxpayers a lot of money,” Henry warned.

Texas’ governor has taken the opposite tack. The single most pressing “emergency” for Rick Perry and the Republican leadership was nonexistent voter fraud. Voter ID’s cost to taxpayers won’t just arise from litigation on behalf of the elderly, rural and minority voters who will be kept from the polls—there will also be substantial costs to administer the bill. To pass Constitutional muster, states that require photo IDs must provide them free to any citizen who needs one to vote. In Missouri, the cost has been estimated at $6 million for the first year of Voter ID. In North Carolina, the costs have run to nearly $20 million.

In a legislative session with a $27 billion budget crater, this is political theater Texas can’t afford.