Saylor in the Houston Post Aren’t you glad they don’t meet every year? September 12,1969 Twenty-Five Cents A Journal of Free Voices A Window to the South The Texas Observer Texas’ Narrow Escape A Sales Tax on Food Austin Texans have just narrowly missed being presented, by the Texas Legislature, with a sales tax on food. Late in August, 1969, the Senate approved it, 15 to 14, and sales taxers in the House came within 20 votes of passing it into law. It was a political thriller-diller, complete with a conference of Austin lobbyists in the governor’s office, a “Travis line” showdown in the lieutenant governor’s living room, one senator flown to Austin from his sick-bed and two others talked into “taking walks” on key votes. The 15 senators who voted for what the Houston Post labeled the “bread tax” now have dark clouds over their political futures. Many of them are furious that they were led to vote for the food tax on the theory that the conservative House would surely pass it if the more liberal Senate would go first. To record the role of the state’s leading officeholders in this near-miss at food taxation in Texas, the Observer interviewed Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, House Speaker Gus Mutscher, authoritative sources close to the governor, and many legislators. Barnes actively pushed the food tax. Gov . Preston Smith announced in advance that he would sign it into law if it passed, giving its advocates invaluable assistance. Mutscher promised in advance he would accept even a beer tax if food was taxed, and Mutscher would have passed the food tax through the House if he could have. With Barnes twisting arms, the Senate shut off a filibuster against the food tax Saturday night and approved it by one vote early Sunday morning, Aug. 24. This happened, however, just in time for the Sunday morning newspapers to blare out the news all over Texas Sunday at breakfast-time, and the ferocity of the public’s reaction was being felt fully in the House by the next day, Monday, Aug. 25. The Houston Post’s outraged editorial, written by veteran Austin reporter Bill Gardner, was on everyone’s lips, and House pages bearing fists-full of telegrams hurried through the House chamber all morning. Mutscher’s attempt to get the votes to pass the food tax “peaked out,” Barnes says, at 56 of the 76 required. Thereupon, rather than expose his bedrock conservatives to public anger, Mutscher had his tax leader, Rep. W. S. Cory of Victoria, pull down the tax. It was voted down pro forma, 147-0. Rivalries among the three top officeholders and the Legislature’s tax impasse were the immediate context. Mutscher’s House has insisted on a tax package that will fall mostly or entirely on consumers. Barnes’ more liberal Senate has been seeking a package some part of which as much as half would be paid in part by business.