Taxes are an Investment in Texas

Tuesday, millions of Americans dutifully filed their federal tax returns, but very few of us contemplate the connection to essential public supports that we take for granted in our everyday lives. Contributing taxes is one of our most fundamental civic duties and allows us to work toward accomplishing our shared goals.

When we pay taxes — whether it’s out of our paycheck, at the cash register, or via property taxes — we are keeping the Texas economy strong and investing in what works. We’re helping to fund roads, libraries, hospitals and other things that improve our communities. Investments supported by our annual tax contributions, including quality schools and preschools, affordable colleges and universities, and effective job training, help hard-working people climb into the middle class.

When we commit to increasing public investments at the state level, we help ensure that Texas schools can prepare more than 5 million Texas kids for the challenges of tomorrow. We ensure that child protective services can keep kids safe, students can afford college and hard-working Texas families can move up the economic ladder to create a better future for their children.

Taxes also keep our economy strong and help businesses thrive. Some Texas politicians may brag about low taxes as the key to our state’s economic growth and business-friendly atmosphere, but businesses want and need skilled workers, well-maintained roads, safe communities and an overall good quality of life. Economist Ray Perryman recently told lawmakers that the greatest threat to the Texas economy is our failure to invest in the state’s workforce and infrastructure. Each time the Texas Legislature passes a new tax giveaway, we undermine our ability to support important services that businesses and families rely on every day.

Last session, legislators passed more than $1 billion in new tax giveaways for businesses while leaving in place many of the 2011 budget cuts to public schools, higher education and health care. Budget writers left Medicaid underfunded by around $1 billion, and we’re still relying on over $4 billion in dedicated funds to cover the budget instead of using that money for its designated purposes. The state is currently embroiled in a lawsuit over the inadequacy of school funding, and funding shortfalls are forcing the Texas Department of Transportation to convert some rural roads to gravel.

Yet somehow there are still calls for more shortsighted tax cuts. In an election year, these calls become ever more shrill — no matter how thinly we’ve stretched existing funds. Texas voters should demand that state leaders make sure that we have the resources we need to invest in the building blocks of job creation and economic growth. If we don’t, we limit Texas’ opportunities and undermine our own prosperity. As former Dallas County Republican Party chair Jonathan Neerman recently told KUT, “The business leaders in my county here in Dallas are very concerned that there are current and future elected leaders who are mortgaging our future so that they can go back and tell their constituents that they didn’t raise taxes.”

At their core, taxes are an exchange between one generation and the next — a down payment on a stronger, more prosperous Texas for all of us. With one out of every 11 kids in the U.S. growing up in Texas, we can’t afford to be stingy with our children or ignore our state’s growing needs. We can’t afford to shortchange our future. Texas became great because the people who came before us made the responsible decision to invest in good schools, a strong transportation system and the other building blocks of economic growth. We owe it to our kids to continue that commitment.

This was published earlier in the Austin American-Statesman on April 15th, 2014.

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