CONTENTS FEATURES 2 Bill Clements and the Temple of Doom 6 How the Trade Winds Blow 8 Austin’s City Limits 10 Other Americas 12 Poems 14 Born in the USA Dave Denison Thomas Ferguson Kaye Northcott Larry Hufford Vic Hinterlang James Harrington Willard Gingerich Benjamin Saenz DEPARTMENTS 5 Dialogue 17 Political Intelligence 22 Social Cause Calendar Books and the Culture: 18 Mr. Sam’s Legacy 20 In the Shadow of the Dictator Afterword: 23 Swimming to America Joe Holley James Harrington Louis Dubose were Clements’s campaign promises to create jobs for the unemployed. By this summer there were 815,800 people in Texas looking for jobs, as compared to 731,300 when Clements was elected. You go through a decade or two of this kind of political leadership and you are going to find a good portion of the electorate staying home on election days. IT ISN’T REALLY so appalling that Clements signed the tax bill there was a good chance state government would have ground to a halt in September if he hadn’t. What is appalling is the style of leadership he displayed through the five-month session of the legislature this spring and the emergency session he caused this summer. All the way until the end Clements insisted there was no need for the taxes Democratic leaders said were necessary to fund a bare-bones budget. Then on the 20th of July, with one day left in the special session, he admitted what everyone had known for months, saying, “I don’t think anyone ever anticipated that our situation is as bad as it is. Now we’ve found out.” This from the man who boasted on the campaign trail of his business acumen and leadership talents! Evidently he was the last one to find out that the state’s declining oil economy had caused a funding crisis in the government. If only Clements would have had his moment of epiphany a few months earlier, the legislature would have been spared one of the most divisivnd chaotic chapters in recent history. But instead the body was allowed to careen perilously close to an embarrassing systemic breakdown. This made for high drama and captivating entertainment, but it’s a hell of a way to run a railroad. Citizens who wake up to an awful political clatter in the next year or so and wonder what all the commotion is about will be able to trace it to the summer of 1987, when Bill Clements nearly presided over the wrecking of state government. The course of events was set in late June, soon after the session opened. In the House of Representatives a small group of Democrats led by Rep. Paul Colbert of Houston decided to send a signal to Republicans who were planning to vote against a tax bill. If you do not favor the five billion dollars in new taxes, the Democrats reasoned, you ought to face up to the kind of budget you can afford. Colbert drafted a 21.5 percent reduction in state spending, listing cuts that would make the budget balance without the taxes. By his calculations, general revenue funding would have to be eliminated for a couple of dozen agencies, including the Public Utility Commission, the Railroad Commission, the Agriculture Department, the Parks and Wildlife Department, as well as colleges around the state. The point was obvious: no such budget would be tolerated by the public, even in Republican districts. Colbert attached the proposed cuts to the appropriations bill as an amendment that would automatically take effect in the event a tax increase failed to win legislators’ approval. The measure, which came to be known as “the doomsday amendment, ” passed 101-44. From there, the House moved on to three long days of work on the appropriations bill. A stream of Republicans carried amendments to cut a few million here or a few million there. Most of their attempts were unsuccessful. On July 2, after 157 amendments had been proposed, only $19 million had been cut from the $38 billion two-year budget \(Democrats and Republicans teamed up to eliminate the entire six million if all the proposed cuts had been adopted it would have amounted to no more than $800 million, according to Paul Colbert. This would have required a tax bill of $5.2 billion, Colbert told Republicans in a speech on the House floor. But House Republicans continued to insist the taxes were not necessary. The Senate passed an appropriations bill $1.2 billion larger than the House’s and a joint committee struck a compromise at $38.6 billion. At this point, Gov. Clements insisted spending was still too high. With the PTA marching on the capitol saying, “No more cuts!” Clements targeted education spending for the budget knife. He met with Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby and Speaker of the House Gib Lewis and proposed elimination of the full-day kindergarten program. Unable to reach agreement on that, the leaders settled on cuts in merit pay to public school teachers. In the end, another $300 million had been cut and Clements had finally agreed that additional taxes were inevitable. But here is where Clements’s claims of leadership ability began to look even more absurd, for no sooner had Clements agreed to the tax plan than Republicans in the House began a rebellion that almost sabotaged the agreement. Egged on a solid bloc of the House’s 56 Republicans with several rightwing Democrats by their side, stood steadfast against the $5.7 billion tax bill. Colbert’s “doomsday amendment,” which had since been redrafted to more directly target Republican districts, was back on center stage, as Republicans charged that it was a measure to “blackmail” them into voting for higher taxes. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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