Monday, October 31, 2011

You Need Water to Have a Tea Party

Last week, I offered my opinion on how to vote on the proposed amendments to the Texas constitution. Or, more accurately, I sent you off to read others' recommendations. Opinions on these propositions are proving true the old saw about politics making strange bedfellows.

After the jump, an example.

Proposition 2 is one of two amendments dealing with the growing importance of Texas's water resources (the other being Proposition 8: Water Stewardship).

Proposition 2: Water Bonds

Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $6 billion at any time outstanding."

In this blog's comments, one reader offered his reason for voting against Proposition 2. He doesn't trust the Texas Water Development Board to be capable of maintaining the bond quality on a 3x increase from $2 billion to $6 billion.

The Tea Party opposes Proposition 2 for a different reason: "this is another way of kicking essential expenditure for now onto our children."

Paul Burka, no friend of the Tea Party, also opposes the proposition for similar reasons: "This flies in the face of the pay-as-you-go principle. The Legislature doesn't have the courage to pay for the water plan, so we just put it in on the credit card."

How am I going to vote? While sympathetic to the above arguments, I'll end up voting YES. Water is simply too important to Texas's future to starve investment in water projects because I don't like the mechanism used for funding.

I don't like how Texas politicians are piling up debt. I don't like how they refuse to raise taxes to carry that debt. I don't like how they cut education and health care instead. I don't like how they fudge the books to accelerate receipts and postpone accounts due to make it look like we have a balanced budget today. I don't like how Texan voters want all the benefits of government without accepting that we need taxes to pay for those benefits. I don't like any of that, but cutting off financing for water projects isn't the answer.

A tea party without water will be no party for anyone.


glbeach said...

In fairness, it is NOT an all-or-nothing proposition. Even if this amendment does not pass, there is still $2 billion of debt currently available for water projects. And while in the great scheme of how political subdivisions spend money $2 billion may not be a lot, it is enough to fund a tremendous amount of water resource infrastructure - if done properly. And it is the 'if done properly' that concerns me if the debt ceiling is raised.

In Texas, the power of the Governor is appointive power. Since the members of the TWDB are appointed, in my mind it would not be a far stretch to paint a scenario such as follows:

Someone like a T. Boone Pickens decides he wants to sell the 'fossil' water from the high plains of Texas to some of the down-state municipalities. Since the G.O.P. has a history of 'privatizing' public services, the G.O.P. appointed TDWC decides to fund this not-good-for-citizens project, moves public funds into private coffers enriching their own friends - who in turn contribute some of their profits back to the G.O.P. as donations - and leave the citizens of Texas to pay the General Obligation Bonds when they come due. And since the water is non-rechargeable, fossil water, not only is it damaging the people of the high plains, but the project would only have a temporary (if any) benefit to the down-state cities.

So, you can call me paranoid, but these are exactly the types of political shenanigans that I fear could be easily (and legally) unleashed. Could it happen now? Sure. But only to the tune of $2 billion, not 6$ billion.

I want what is best for Texans and Texas, but the wording of this Amendment does not give me comfort that raising the debt ceiling in this fashion is what is best.

glbeach said...

Ironically, I just came across this article after having posted my comment above. It gives a bit of insight (yes I recognize it is not unbiased) into why I loathe giving appointed state officials MORE freedom with debt:

Mark Steger said...

Gary, thanks for your insight. I share your distaste for crony capitalism. I'm not sure I agree that the current $2 billion cap on bond authorization is adequate for the state's needs. A "no" vote on Proposition 2 doesn't fix the problem of crony capitalism, but it does threaten to leave the state with an inadequate supply of water. I'll hold my nose and vote "yes."