During the recent government shutdown, the leader of the boneheads forcing the issue was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, followed by his fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn and all 24 of the state’s House Republicans. Even on the brink of default, they voted in lockstep to continue the shutdown, leading to the obvious question: what’s the matter with Texas?
Cruz received a hero’s welcome when he returned to his home state. His attempts to tie defunding Obamacare to a reopening of the government left him “reviled” in Washington, he told a rally of Texas Republican women, but “I’ve got a job, and it’s not to work for the party bosses in Washington, it’s to work for 26 million Texans.”
Never mind that only 4.4 million of those Texans voted for him. Cruz has emerged as a symbol of Texas’s proud defiance of the federal government, and his own party leadership. “You don’t win a fight when your own team is firing cannons at the people who are standing up and leading,” he said in an odd twist of facts. His stand conjured up images of him standing next to Daniel Boone at the Alamo (and we all know how that turned out). But how much of Cruz’s act is rooted in rugged individualism and how much is pure hypocrisy?
Is Texas The Future?
Texas has come in for its share of both praise and opprobrium in recent weeks. Time magazine ran a cover story noting that it is the fastest growing big state in the union with a net gain of over one million residents since 2000.
“The state’s social services are thin. Welfare benefits are skimpy. Roughly a quarter of the residents have no health insurance. Many of its schools are less than stellar. Property-crime rates are high. Rates of murder and other violent crimes are hardly sterling either,” Tyler Cowen wrote. But everyone from Mexican immigrants to bohemian artists from the north are flocking to the state seeking a cheaper cost of living and a less regulated climate in which to do business. “Texas has those in spades. And did we mention there’s no state income tax?”
The litany of problems Cowen cites underscores the growing divide in Texas – and America – between a wealthy upper class and people at the bottom of the economic ladder. And while Republicans decry Obamacare, food stamps and other social programs, Texans rich and poor have one thing to thank for their good fortune: the federal government.
The Flow of Dollars
Let’s start with the fact that Texas gets back three dollars in spending for every two dollars the federal government collects there in taxes. Federal money covers a little over a third of the state budget (more than any other income source); and even as Texas Gov. Rick Perry contemplated his ill-fated run for president, he used $6.4 billion of President Obama’s stimulus money to cover a projected shortfall in the state’s 2010-2011 budget.
Federal money covers $36.6 billion of the state’s health and human services costs; $15.6 billion of the state budget for elementary and high school education; and $10.6 billion of the business and economic development activities –- about 45.3 percent – Gov. Perry uses to lure new businesses to the state.
Now let’s move on to the impact of federal employment in the state. Texas is home to 15 U.S. military bases, including Ft. Hood, headquarters for two of the nation’s ten army divisions. They employ almost 246,000 active duty personnel, National Guardsmen and Department of Defense (DoD) civilian workers, as well as thousands of men and women working in defense-related businesses. In 2010, DoD contract expenditures in Texas totaled more than $30.8 billion, or 5.9 percent of all Dod contract spending, according to the Texas Wide Open for Business website.
Overall, Texas ranks third in total federal employment (including Washington, D.C.) with 166,000 jobs. The U.S. border patrol alone has gone from 350 agents in 1965 to 18,516 today, most stationed along the 1,969-mile border Texas shares with Mexico.
Although only there are only 3,200 federal employees at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the center hires another 15,000 outside contractors and is the hub for Texas’s 2nd major industry, aerospace. And let’s not forget its first major industry––oil and gas––which benefits from a generous oil depreciation allowance (that only proves Texas congressmen are quite adept at the Washington game when they want to be.)
Add in Pell grants for students, medical and university research grants, alternative energy incentives, agricultural subsidies, irrigation projects, port dredging by the Army Corps of Engineers, and it’s fair to say most of the business activities Texas prides itself on would be in the toilet without federal largess.
Gov. Rick Perry’s threat a few years ago to secede from the union rings as hollow as a rattlesnake’s tail. And yet, the citizens send politicians to Washington every year who profess that the federal government is an onerous intrusion on their lives.
A Purple Texas
One result of Texas’s growth has been a slow shift in the state demographics to a younger, more diverse, and more cosmopolitan populace. Texas boast the second youngest median age in the nation. Hispanics are the fast-growing voting block in the state; and the latest census shows Texas is now a “majority-minority” state, meaning a majority of the population comes from minority groups.
But electoral change is likely to come slowly. Only three of the 24 Texas Republicans in the House won their seats with less than a 20-point margin: (Randy Weber (53%), Blake Farenthold (56%) and Pete Sessions (58%). Eligible white and black voters are also 10 percent more likely to register than eligible Hispanics and 15% more likely to turnout and vote.
If there is a glimmer of hope for liberals, it is in the candidacy next year of State Sen. Wendy Davis against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott to replace Rick Perry as governor. Davis was the legislator who staged a late night filibuster to block a bill [since declared unconstitutional] that would have closed all but 5 of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. Her stand prompted an outpouring of financial support from feminist groups nationwide, but her success will hinge on the women of Texas, who are not necessarily flocking to her camp.
Cut it Out (Off)
What is most confounding is that the philosophic pronouncements of Tea Party Texans are unhinged from the realities of what drives the Texas economy. And the voters don’t seem to mind. A guy like Ted Cruz who can unfurl a good stem-winder on the stump doesn’t need facts (as long as he’s got God on his side). It’s like everyone in Texas assumes “reigning in” federal spending won’t affect the military, NASA, university and medical center funding, or the abundance of other programs that prop up the state government.
Barry Goldwater, the paragon of conservatism, once claimed America would be better off if we just sawed off the East Coast. The same could be said of Texas. The state has a lot of easy-to-follow straight lines as borders. Hand them the saw. They just might be dumb enough to use it.