Team Straus, our state’s moderate House leadership, has been campaigning for months in favor of revenue hikes next legislature. Some may remember Straus’s Obama-esque El Paso comments, where he told a crowd that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They’ve gotten into some hot water with voters and may be changing their tactics, but not their intentions.
Comptroller Susan Combs raised revenue projections in December by less than $4 billion. Four billion dollars won’t fill our shortfall without serious systemic government reform, an option team Straus carefully avoids discussing. A month after Comptroller Combs's revenue forecast enhancement, moderate Todd Smith, speaking to a Chamber of Commerce crowd, was still out speaking in favor of revenue hikes.
There is a new tactic, and it is much more subtle.
Straus recently told a crowd that the economy will grow to cover the shortfall. Saying this allows him to retain the premise that we need new revenues, but he gets to stop asking for revenue hikes. Now he just relies on an optimistic hunch to cover the coming revenue gap. Then, when the economy doesn't grow as Straus has predicted, he can return to working toward new revenues, strategy intact.
The major benefit of this new message for him is that he doesn't have to surrender his revenue hike battle, but he does get to quit the dangerous practice of asking Texans for revenue hikes.
Comptroller Combs's December upward adjustment included the jump in sales receipts for January. Still, it will not cover the expected revenue gap without systemic reform and cuts. The idea that the economy will grow enough to cover the coming shortfall without major reform is Straus's. He seems to be acting as his own Comptroller on this one.
Receiving an assist on the play is the Austin American-Statesman, who carried his message with no challenge to it. They noted that the real Comptroller, Susan Combs, has announced that January receipts were 10% better than last January without explaining that the January sales receipt improvement was already baked into the cake of Comptroller Combs's predictions. We called the Comptroller's office and they assured us this was the case.
After receiving blowback this past fall from his El Paso Obama impersonation, Straus told a new audience "that’s was I get for being candid" with people.
No doubt this brand new strategy is a much more comfortable fit.