Lone Star Tarnished is a study of the Texas political culture, the Texas way of thinking about and conducting politics, and its impact on public policy in regard to jobs, education, health care and social services, criminal justice, transportation, energy and the environment, taxation, and more. We approach Texas politics and public policy from historical, comparative, and analytical/critical perspectives. The historical perspective provides the scope for asking how Texas politics and public policy have evolved and developed, often with a qualitative discussion reaching back to the state’s founding and with substantial data for the period 1950 to the present. In each chapter, we compare Texas public policy choices and results with those of other states, usually including California and Florida as they are similarly situated, and the United States in general. Finally, the analytical/ critical perspective allows us to question the balance of benefits and costs attendant to “the Texas way” or “the Texas model” and to think about how we might do better.
Lone Star Tarnished comprises ten chapters divided into three sections. Part I is entitled “The Great State of Texas?” The goal of Chapter 1, “The Texas Way,” is to show that a distinctive view of the role and purpose of government has long, indeed always, characterized Texas. The Texas model is similar to that in other southern and southwestern states, but with distinctive Texas twists. In Chapter 2, entitled “Texas: The Myth vs. the Reality,” we explore those distinctive twists which can be summed up in the idea that everything, literally everything, is bigger and better in Texas. In this chapter, we highlight and attempt to get control of the boosterism and braggadocio that pervade Texas life in general and Texas politics in particular. We show that while Texas has done very well on population and job growth, its ranking among the states on income, education, social services, criminal justice, and the environment have been stagnant or fall- ing for decades. Chapter 3 highlights the rapidly changing demographics of Texas. Demographic change is nothing new to Texas, but from the Austin colony of the 1820s through the current decade Anglos (whites to the wider world) were the dominant ethnicity. They still are, but in 2005
Anglos fell below 50 percent of the Texas population, compared to
Hispanics at 36 percent, blacks at a little less than 12 percent, and Asians at about 3 percent. By the early 2030s, Hispanics will be the majority in Texas, though Anglos will still control the wealth and, likely, the politics of the state. We ask what those demographic changes mean—for example, for wealth creation, income, educational attainment, poverty, and crime— in the coming decades.
Part II, entitled “The Reality Thus Far,” is composed of six substantive policy chapters. These chapters cover most of the major policy areas in which state governments are active, including the economy, education, health and human services, crime and punishment, transportation, and, especially in Texas, energy and the environment. In each policy area, we look at policy goals, expenditures, outcomes or results, and racial and ethnic differences. We ask what Texas says it is trying to do, how hard it seems to be trying to do it, with what results, and for whom. In each chapter, we compare Texas to a relevant selection of states and usually to the national average of all fifty states. In chapters dealing with economic and social policy issues such as income, education, and health care, we break down results by race and ethnicity. We want to know how Texas has done and is doing compared to selected states and the national average over time and today. Is Texas above or below the national average, say in education expenditures or access to health care, and is it falling behind or moving up? What we find is that Texas’s firm commitment to low taxes has starved state government funding of programs in most of these policy areas and comparisons with other states have worsened.
Part III, entitled “The Coming Reality,” is composed of one concluding chapter. Chapter 10, entitled “The Way Forward,” explores the history of Texas tax policies and asks how Texas might change its revenue system to better confront the problems that loom clearly on the horizon. Texas revised its tax system in the mid-1980s and several times since in ways that have left the state perpetually in deficit and facing ongoing budget cuts. In recent years, Texas has consistently ranked among the lowest of the low tax states, ranking 47th in 2010. We ask what tax reforms and new tax sources would provide the additional revenues needed to bring Texas to the southern average for tax effort, and then to the national average, and to what uses those funds might be put.
Most of Lone Star Tarnished will be dedicated to describing the meaning of the Texas way and tracing out its impact on Texas public policy in sepa- rate chapters on jobs, income, and poverty; education; health care and social services; crime and punishment; transportation; energy and the environ- ment; and tax policy. But before we do that, let’s briefly lay out just a few of the connections among the Texas way, demographic change, education, and income, to show that a very great deal is at stake in accurately gauging the impact of political culture on public policy. Effective public policy might mitigate problems facing Texas, while ineffective public policy might permit them to worsen to the detriment of most if not all Texans.
The thesis of this book is that Texas is in thrall to a myth that blinds it to social and economic changes that threaten its future. We begin with the irrefutable point that there is a romantic reading of Texas history, some would call it the Texas myth, in which many Texans revel. The myth is that Texas has always been and remains big, bold, open, and vibrant and that these attributes assure dynamism, growth, and prosperity. In Texas history, the defenders of freedom at the Alamo and San Jacinto and the planters, ranchers, wildcatters, and high-tech entrepreneurs who followed in their wake are the exemplars.
“The Texas way,” as Governor Rick Perry continues to call this distinc- tive outlook on life, rests on the pillars of individualism, personal respon- sibility, and limited government. The Texas way presumes that individuals build families and businesses and create wealth. Sometimes individuals join together to seize opportunities or solve problems, but they do so on their own terms and usually in their own neighborhoods and communi- ties. There is a place for government where individual and community effort is insufficient to solve pressing problems. But government should limit itself to the essentials, defending persons and property, promoting an economic infrastructure of transportation and utilities, and establishing courts to enforce the rule of law. In this environment of freedom, some will succeed and some will fail, but all will deserve and should own the results that they achieve.
Virtually no one still denies that for most of Texas history the state’s commitment to individualism, personal responsibility, and limited government encompassed only white men and served particularly well the needs and interests of elite white men. What far fewer recognize is that today the Texas way, rather than marking the path forward, obscures grow- ing threats to our future security and prosperity. Touting the Texas way as if it applied to all Texans, when, in fact, it is the heritage of an ever shrink- ing Anglo portion of the population, is an excuse for political and policy inaction. Anglo Texans have not yet fully realized that the days in which they could succeed even as Texas blacks and Hispanics lagged are fading fast.
The challenges facing Texas are no secret; they involve the interaction of demographic change, educational attainment, and income distribution. Demographic change is an old story in Texas. But once the Anglo majority in Texas was established by the 1830s, it ranged from two-thirds to three- quarters of the total population into the last quarter of the twentieth century. As late as 1980, Anglos accounted for 66 percent of the Texas population, blacks for 12 percent, and Hispanics for a little over
20 percent. By 2040, Anglos are expected to be just 32 percent of the population, blacks will be under 10 percent, and Hispanics will account for more than 50 percent. These are massive changes, but massive changes do not have to be worrisome. If Anglos, blacks, and Hispanics in Texas enjoyed equal educations and incomes, there would be no reason to worry,
because demographic change would not affect the state’s overall competi- tiveness and productivity. Unfortunately, this happy possibility does not pertain in Texas.
The outline of the problem posed by demographic change in Texas begins to emerge when you analyze educational attainment and income by race and ethnicity. In 2008, Texas ranked 51st, dead last among the fifty states and D.C., in the proportion of residents twenty-five and older who held a high school diploma, at 79.6 percent compared to 85 percent nationally. High school graduates in Texas by race and ethnicity break down this way: Anglos 91 percent, blacks 83 percent, and Hispanics 57 percent. Because Hispanic educational attainment lags that of Anglos and blacks, so do Hispanic incomes. Median family income in Texas in 2007 for Anglos was $71,841, for blacks $39,361, and for Hispanics $35,941. Poverty rates were 9 percent for Anglos, 26 percent for Hispanics, and 25 percent for blacks. Unless Hispanic educational attainment and income improve as the Hispanic share of the population grows, Texas will become a poorer, less dynamic, less effective wealth producing state.
For many Anglo Texans, bred in the Texas way of individualism, personal responsibility, and small government, this seems like a boot strap issue. If lack of education limits income potential for many Texas Hispanics, then the answer is to study harder in school, go further in school, and work harder in the private economy once you leave school. Alternatively, to view Hispanic educational attainment as a major public policy problem, requiring significant investments in the state’s poorer schools, would be both expensive and at least partially from the pockets of wealthier Anglo school districts.
Texans and their elected leaders understand that a strong economy and wealth creation require an educated workforce. Yet, spending the money that it would take to insure excellent public schools throughout the state, especially as the students in those schools become increasingly black and brown, comes hard to those Texans who have most of the money. In 2009, average spending per student in the U.S. was $10,499, while Texas spent
$8,760, just 83 percent of the U.S. average. Moreover, in 2011, fiscal pres- sures led Governor Perry and the state legislature to cut $4 billion from the 2011–2012 biennial budget for public education.
Could we spend more on education and other programs without hurting the state’s economy and bankrupting Texans? Yes, but carefully, because Texas is not a wealthy state. In 2009, U.S. median family income was
$62,363 while median family income in Texas was $56,650, 91 percent of the national average, 34th among the fifty states. On the other hand, Texas has long ranked among the lowest of the low tax states. Texas takes just
5.6 percent of personal income in state taxes, compared to the national average of 7.2 percent, placing Texas 45th among the fifty states. The per capita tax burden was $2,248 in 2009, compared to the national average of $3,057. Clearly, Texas could increase revenues enough to fund critical
education, health care, transportation, and environmental programs. For reasons that we will explore in detail below, it is unlikely to do so and the state and its citizens will suffer.
Books take time and their authors—at least the lucky ones—draw on many kinds of support. I am deeply grateful to Southern Methodist University for the gift of a sabbatical during the 2009–2010 academic year and the opportunity to rearrange some responsibilities during 2010–2011. My colleagues in the SMU political science department were, just as they should have been, supportive and skeptical by turns. This book originated in conversations with Harold Stanley, now ascended to Associate Provost of the university, and matured in daily conversations with Brad Carter, Dennis Ippolito, Joe Kobylka, Dennis Simon, and Matt Wilson. I am also grateful to the students in my Texas Politics classes, the journalists with whom I frequently talk Texas politics, and the reviewers who took the time to offer advice and suggestions when the manuscript was in draft. My wife, Jane, continues to expand the calm in my life. Finally, this is the fourth of my books that Michael Kerns and Mary Altman have seen through Routledge. Sarah Stone skillfully managed the production process. They are ever faithful. These are the relationships that define and sustain me and upon which I place great value.