Thursday, February 24, 2011

One Mississippi, two Mississippi . . .

    You've got to respect Marva Beck's religion, in a quaint, Lake Wobegon way.

    The newly elected Republican has come to Austin with this belief to express: Texas government, "too big."

     Understand where she's coming from. To one from Centerville, almost anything of a Texas-size dimension would be a humongous.

     But Texas government "too big"? It's a bumper sticker that matches no reality.

     It reminds one of the Scripture phrases members of the Sanctified Brethren wore on their auto bumpers in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon. Ordered, as he described, from the Grace & Truth Scripture Depot in Erie, Pa., the most popular was: "The wages of sin is death. Rom. 6:23."

     The wages of sin may be death. But Texas government too big?

      You may believe that. You know, in your heart.

      But if you know Texas government, its responsibilities and the tasks it leaves on the table, you know: Texas government can and ought to be bigger, in the way of a state that touts its bigness.

      Too big? How about how Texas addresses, or not, its highway needs, while investing in the power of prayer and toll roads?

      How about a waiting list that swells like a NASCAR crowd for mental health services?

      To extend the NASCAR analogy: How about anything at all that would prevent a rebellious youngster from doing donuts in the dirt at the gruesome finish line that is the Texas Youth Commission?

     How about nearly criminal Medicaid reimbursement rates for the state's most vulnerable — no, not illegal aliens. We speak of the elderly in Texas nursing homes.

     No, Texas goverment is not too big. It would be plenty bigger if it owned up to needs other than those of the homebuilders lobby, the gun lobby, and the Texas Association of Business.

     Someone like Beck, who defeated former Democrat House leader Jim Dunnam for the District 57 seat in November, looks at a projected $27 billion shortfall through 2013 and tells the Waco Tribune-Herald from Austin that it means "government here is too big."

      Not to shake anyone's beliefs, but Dick Lavine has a better handle on that. The budget watchdog of Austin's Center for Public Policy Priorities for years has pointed out that Texas has dug itself into a deep budgetary hole — a structural deficit — not by spending too much, but by having a too-puny revenue stream for government that is Texas-sized.

      This worsened when under the guise of school finance reform, Texas cut property taxes and didn't find sufficient funds through a new business tax to make up the difference.

      The infantile claim that Texas government is too big reminds one of the faux compassion Gov. Rick Perry expressed a few years ago when, in the face of yet another round of budget cuts, he said the state would be responsible about meeting human needs. After all, he said, Texas didn't want to be "another Mississippi."

       It turned out that Mississippi, barefoot and toothless, was spending more per capita on its human needs than big, brawny, skyscrapers-and-snakeskin Texas.

       What a sad state — so many needs rotting in the sun while leaders delude themselves that they have done just about everything they can. No means, you know?

       Sure, this is not the time to talk about bigger government. Every state is hurting. Every state has a budget crisis. That doesn't mean we buy into the assumption that Texas has spent more than it ought over the last 20 years. That's not truth. That's fiction. That's Garrison Keillor characters.

       The fiction does, however, fit nicely on a believer's bumper sticker.

        Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:   

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