CONTENTS FEATURES 2 Responsible Answers 4 Raising a Racket 5 Clements and Catfish 6 Grassroots Farm Policy 9 Pilgrimage to the Gates of Hell Betty Brink 11 All But This Island: Ronnie Dugger An Interview with A.G. Mojtabai Geoffrey Rips DEPARTMENTS 16 Political Intelligence 19 Social Cause Calendar Afterword: 20 From the Work of Russell Lee 22 The History of Today Maury Maverick, Jr. Cover Photo by Alan Pogue Geoffrey Rips Dave Denison Ronnie Dugger Greg Moses society does not offer many options for a worker from Mola with a bad back, a small pension, and no formal education. In this same neighborhood, every candy store and coffee shop sells tickets for the New York State Lottery. Across the street from the OTB is a family-run coffee shop that features a couple of pasta blue-plate specials for lunch and a decent chocolate egg cream. You see people in that coffee shop who buy a lottery ticket each day when they pay for their meals. You see people buy tickets with the change they receive. The day before a drawing, people start lining up to buy their tickets five, ten, twenty tickets at a time, particularly if the previous weeks’ drawing didn’t produce a winner, thereby increasing the jackpot. These are not rich people. These are wage earners. But a million-to-one shot at a windfall is a better break than they think they receive for all the other money they contribute to their government. All of this is to say that I have a difficult time thinking of pari-mutuel betting or lottery as crimes., in and of themselves, against humanity. Instead, .the real crime against humanity here is the ruse being perpetrated by lobbyists and lawmakers who claim that a lottery and wagering on horses are any kind of answer to the state’s fiscal problems. What you have is the Southland Corporation and Circle K \(see lobbyists seizing upon this fiscal crisis as an opportunity to pass a couple of ventures they have been trying to get through the legislature for years. Of course there are questions that need answering concerning the number of poor people who spend their money on lottery tickets. Of course we should examine whether we will be taking from the poor to feed the highway contractors and some of the poor. While there is some question as to what kinds of revenues pari-mutuel betting will provide directly to the state, there is no question that a lottery would provide substantial revenue, although the rate of return . for state investment is low. The point is, however, that the issues of state lottery and pari-mutuel wagering should be separated from discussions of the state’s fiscal condition. They are not responsible legislative answers to the current crisis. Instead, the feet of our lawmakers must be held to the fire. They must come up with a sound, equitable basis for collecting money to run the business of the state. A lottery and parimutuel betting are evasions on the part of lawmakers. If they are to be considered by legislators, let them only be considered in times of prosperity, when people have extra money to throw around, when adequate state services are provided for all our residents in need. They should not be presented in the legislature or on referenda as answers to our woes. Our elected officials have to do better than that. AND THEY HAVE A chance to do so in the form of Bob Bullock’s proposal to broaden the sales tax base. The idea here is to base a system of taxation on the kinds of businesses that are now operating profitably in the state while contributing little or no state revenue. With heavy industry in decline, it only makes sense to peg the future of the state’s revenues to the sources of money that will be generated in the state in the future, lottery or no lottery. Bullock’s plan continues to exempt food, medical care and medicines, and child care. While a sales tax is by nature regressive, this tax would be much less regressive than our current tax in that it removes the exemption for such personal and professional services as investment and architectural services, almost exclusively the domain of the affluent. Because the base is broadened and because he changes the Bullock is also able to propose a decrease in the rate of the state sales tax. By broadening the base and lowering the rate to 3.5 percent, the revenue’ from sales tax alone in 1988-’89 would increase by $2.69 billion. But that’s not the only major benefit of Bullock’s proposal. The broader sales tax base would also generate $1.02 billion in additional revenues for the state’s ten largest cities in the next biennium and $418 million more for the state’s metropolitan transit authorities. This would mean that the fiscal crises currently faced by most cities in this state would be moved toward a solution at the same time that the state’s fiscal problems are being addressed. According to a report issued by the American Federation city of Houston would receive $83 million in additional revenues in Fiscal Years 1988-’89. Today Houston is facing a $100 million shortfall, forcing cuts in services and massive worker lay-offs. San Antonio, which is facing a $28 million shortfall, would generate $33 million in additional income. Because the cities are being forced to respond to projected deficits by reducing services or by raising property taxes, a broadened tax base could obviate the need for undertaking either option. There are two other parts to Bullock’s proposal that bear watching. The first is what he calls oil and gas rate “equalization,” apparently a euphemism for lowering the tax rate on oil and gas production. Clearly that equalizes nothing but the amount of tax reduced for very unequal producers. A real equalization would be a proposal similar to Bob Eckhardt’s graduated oil tax, discussed in the August 29 Observer by Ronnie Dugger. Where Bullock’s proposal results in the loss of $600 million in state revenue, Eckhardt’s could THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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