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Repairing the damage of Reaganomics New Priorities for the * 68th Legislature * By Ronnie Dugger Broadly speaking, the principal task of the 68th Texas legislature in 1983 should be compensating for the ravages in social programs caused by the first two years of the Reagan Administration. As long as Bill Clements was governor there was no chance for this; now there is. A model is provided by Governor Michael S. Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts \(returned after four years augural address on Jan. 6 “to fight Reaganomics and its philosophy of indifference with all the energy I can summon.” The immediate concern should be locating and assisting people who are in serious trouble because of the recession and Reagan’s benefit cuts. Dukakis convened a conference of government, religious, and civic leaders “to put together,” he said. “a statewide effort which will provide the necessities of life to those in desperate need.” “We will establish a toll-free hot line for instant referral, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Dukakis was quoted in the New York Times. “If needed, we will draw on surplus state hospitals, unused public schools and, as a last resort, National Guard armories to shelter the homeless and to distribute surplus food.” in New York, emphasizing the legitimacy of governmental concern for those in need, Gov. Mario Cuomo has proposed bond issues to finance work on roads, rails, and ports, housing financing, and the construction of permanent housing for the homeless; increased unemployment benefits; and a public regional financing bank, drawing its funds from revenues of the Port of New York and New Jersey and using the money to finance roads and mass transit. Part of the new five-cent increase in the federal gasoline tax is dedicated to funding mass transit. In Texas we already Give the people a chance to pay for campaigns at, say, $1 a citizen a year . . . and we might be surprised by their enthusiasm. have the fat highway fund, and part of it should be dedicated to the same cause. Meanwhile, Texas officials should descend on Washington to seek the restoration of Amtrak routes that affect Texas. With 14,000,000 Americans unemployed or too discouraged to go on looking for work, certainly it is time to fight again the fundamental fight about the notoriously low level of unemployment benefits in Texas. The Texas AFLCIO says these benefits should be increased to 60% of one’s average weekly wage. The legislature should be encouraging all kinds of economic co-operatives — agricultural, energy, homebuilding, financial, neighborhood. Generally speaking, co-operatives have fallen on hard times, but with 11 % unemployment there are plenty of people around who have nothing else to do but to join together in cooperative ventures. Some states have been sponsoring their own “enterprise zones,” giving tax breaks to industries that go into ghettoes and hire poor people. Seen broadly, this may just redistribute unemployment and lower overall wage rates. The Texas legislature could more constructively experiment with programs to assist the formation of cooperatives in neighborhoods and in communities with high unemployment. The Public Utilities Commission, which is now appointed, has proved itself unduly concerned about utilities’ profits at the expense of hard-strapped consumers. The abolition of the fueladjustment fees that are used to raise rates a step Gov. Mark White advocated while campaigning should be effected, but two far more important changes are necessary. Utilities have taken to charging present consumers for the construction costs of facilities before those facilities are online. That should be prohibited. And the members of the PUC should be increased from three to six or nine and elected from single-member districts. Even with elections polluted by special-interest money, democracy is still better than government by insiders, and electing members of the PUC would probably thrust forward important consumer advocates. Strict dollar-top limits should be set on spending in campaigns for state offices and on individual and committee contributions to candidates at various levels. The loophole should be closed that permits a candidate to hide controversial contributions by bunching them just before the voting and reporting them after it. Conversion of campaign funds to personal use during or after a campaign should be made a felony. Ultimately public funding of campaigns should be achieved, perhaps through a small tax that builds up a state campaign-money fund from which qualified candidates may draw specified sums, or by allocation of funds from general revenue for the purpose. Give the people a chance to pay for campaigns at, say, $1 a citizen a year instead of having special interests pay for them, and we might be surprised by their enthusiasm. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7