Challenging the Wisdom of the Trans Texas Corridor.

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SCORE: Taxpayers 0 - Big Business 2.8 Million

September 1, 2005

The property tax reductions promised Texas homeowners has not yet appeared, but today the Austin American Statesman reports Wal-Mart will save an estimated $2.8 million dollars a year in property taxes thanks to a state funded purchase-lease deal.

The State of Texas has gone into the land development business using powers and leverage only available to government. By doing so the State is now directly competing with private enterprise and violating the most fundamental principles of capitalism.

You can wrap it in public school funding platitudes, but at its core it is still wrong.

Creative accounting in Austin appears to make money appear out of thin air. Someone needs to explain how Wal-Mart can skip paying nearly $3 million a year in property tax without that having an impact on local government.

Bottom line, Wal-Mart is paying less than they would without the State giving them preferential treatment over other businesses. The State isnít even requiring employment or investment targets be met as they would if a county or city were providing economic development incentives. And in the process the State is collecting more than its fair share. It's no surprise that both think it a good deal. Wal-Mart pays less and the State makes more.

This is another recent example of government greed. It's the kind of win-win-win accounting we would expect Enron to have approved.

What is government greed you ask?

In a democratic society the government taxes the governed to provide certain limited services. Unfortunately, we have created a direct linkage between government spending and winning elections. When the elected officials who operate our government desire to spend more than the governed are willing to pay for it creates a political conflict. It is very simple and nothing new, spending is popular and taxing is not. To overcome that conflict the government improperly is driven to generate its own revenue independent of taxes, something I call government greed. At first that might look like a good thing, less taxes and more services. However, it creates an even greater conflict. It undermines the fundamental principles of our democracy and capitalist system. Moreover it abandons fiscal restrain and responsibility. Revenues derived from non-traditional tax sources are often treated with significantly less public accountability. Somehow we view taxes as our money, something we earn, while other monies are akin to gifts and windfalls.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson calls this deal, "the flagship of our future efforts in the real estate area." If so, we would call this first ship in the fleet the HMS Taxtanic.

Speaking before an audience at the Victoria County Club on September 16, 2005, Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton, Jr., used the Wal-Mart distribution center as his example of the economic development opportunity created by the Trans-Texas Corridor.

When did we make the leap in philosophy that allows our government to compete with private enterprise; exchange business advantage, privilege and protection for state financial gain; conduct pubic business and negotiate agreements in secret; put the protection of private business interests above that of the public interest; surrender accountability; and, abdicate the responsibility of government to provide services to share in the private profits generated in selling those services? Are these American values?

What's next?

Toll tags for children who play in our parks? Why not? That's the logic being applied by TxDOT today. Just consider it a user fee and your backyard the free alternative. Maybe a French concessionaire will build and maintain your parks and pay a handsome government fee for the right to charge taxpayers to use the basketball courts, ball fields, swings, slides and even the grass. Just think how great our parks could be. After all we don't have money to build all the parks we need and we could get them built years sooner.

Maybe its time we pay a user fee whenever we call the police or fire department.

Or maybe its time we take a good hard look at the direction we're headed and make a serious course correction.


Why is concerned? is concerned because this is the underlying problem with the Trans Texas Corridor. It's not about good government, it's not about meeting our transportation needs, its about generating revenue. It's about going into the land development business doling out special deals and public infrastructure monopolies. It's government greed. It's un-American at its core.

We believe that this Wal-Mart land deal is the prototype for development that will dot the landscape along the length of the Trans Texas Corridor.


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