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May 31, 2005

Republican Legislators Unable to Say the "P" Word

By Andrew Dobbs

It seems that since the early 1990s a certain word has left the lips of politicians across this country-- the word "poor". There was a time when poor folks knew that there was a concerted effort to improve their lives. A shifting focus to the middle class has hurt that effort nationally, but thankfully Texas Democrats continue to stand up for the poor (a necessity in one of the poorest states in the entire country). Unfortunately, Republicans have continued to use the poor as their personal ATM-- robbing them of their needed services and their tax dollars in order to pay for their boondoggles for the rich. The DMN spells out a few examples of last minute attacks on the poor.

Lawmakers were able to balance the next two-year state budget with some last-minute maneuvers, but some Democrats complained that poor Texans took a hit in the process.

The Legislature diverted a fund that helped offset electric bills for the poor and opted not to change eligibility checks for the Children's Health Insurance Program to once a year instead of once every six months. The change would have been the best hope for giving health care back to thousands of poor children.

Also, lawmakers once again extended a 1.25 percent tax on telephone service. The tax was to have expired two years ago. (...)

House Speaker Pro Tem Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, was especially upset about losing the 10-percent electricity discount for the poor. About 120,000 of them are served by TXU. Electricity customers in most of the state will continue a tax for the "system benefit fund," but it'll be spent on other programs.

Mr. Turner threatened late Sunday to retaliate by derailing a bill to raise $1.2 billion with higher fees and minor changes to health programs. The measure was crucial to balancing the budget, and Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, rebuffed Mr. Turner's parliamentary maneuver.

The electricity fund also was raided in 2003 to help plug a $10 billion budget shortfall. Lawmakers siphoned enough to reduce the number of eligible households from 750,000 to 350,000, Mr. Turner said.

"Many of them happen to be seniors," he said.

To be eligible, a household's income can't exceed 125 percent of the federal poverty level ­ about $12,000 for a single person, $16,000 for a couple. Through 2007, no one will get a discount.

In CHIP, the state-federal program for youngsters in working-poor households, some experts believe a shift two years ago to eligibility checks every six months contributed more than other cuts to 180,000 children being removed from the rolls. (...)

So 350,000 poor Texans will see an 11% increase in their electric bills, and poor and middle class Texans whose kids depended on CHIP for health care before 2003 who were promised restorations in that session's cuts were disappointed, despite bipartisan efforts to fix to fix the program. Texans who expected a cut in their telephone bill two years ago will have to wait at least two more years to get that relief. Now, whenever Democrats vote for or support a smaller tax cut or a delay of a tax cut than what Republicans want the Republicans call it a "tax increase." Following their own logic, Republicans have supported a tax increase for the last two sessions running.

Poor folks were the punching bag for frustrated Republicans all session. When they needed cash to make up for their proposed (and ultimately, failed) school finance/tax restructuring plan, they raised taxes on poor and middle class Texans. The less you made, the larger the tax increase so the Republican plan would have raised taxes a staggering 5-6%. And poor schools would have seen less money under the "equity" proposals than wealthy schools-- not just in dollars, but in percentage increase. This session could have been a disaster for the poor, but since the Republicans failed miserably in virtually all of their efforts they ended up coming out just beaten and not bludgeoned to death.

The fact of the matter is that the best reason I can find to be a Democrat is that when the cards are down we are for poor folks and the other guys are for rich folks. Being for rich folks means you would rather help out people who don't need any help than help out people who are struggling just to survive. And when you help out poor folks it helps out middle class folks (who are typically one disaster away from abject poverty) and even rich folks (whose prosperity is undermined by the instability a large underclass brings with it). This session proved once and for all that the Democrats are the party of working people and the Republicans the party of the idle rich. Republicans are in trouble now because no one likes a bully and that is exactly what they presented themselves as to the poor here in Texas.

Posted by Andrew Dobbs at May 31, 2005 01:00 PM | TrackBack


when you help out poor folks it helps out middle class folks (who are typically one disaster away from abject poverty) and even rich folks (whose prosperity is undermined by the instability a large underclass brings with it)

The converse - aka "trickle down theory" - is far easier to validate as an effective economic policy.

You also seem to vastly underestimate income mobility in the US. Almost 60% of the people in the lowest quintile have moved up after a single generation, and over 60% of those in the HIGHEST quintile have moved down.

So be careful with the class warfare incitement: the rich you despise today will be the poor of tomorrow, and vice versa.

Posted by: Mark at May 31, 2005 05:22 PM
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