Bathroom Bill Could Tip Over the Outhouse in Rural Texas

LOCAL control once controlled Texas Republicanism.

In the 1978 gubernatorial race, Bill Clements campaigned on a conviction that locals carry the greatest knowledge of and investment in their place.

“Dollar Bill” even doubled down on promises of Californian-style initiative and referendum legislation.

Clements became the first GOP governor since Reconstruction and Rick Perry called him the father of the modern-day Texas Republican Party.

It’s baffling today to watch Dan Patrick rebuff Clements and watch Patrick leverage power to limit self-governance.

Home rule cities are often treated as general law. Too frequently, Patrick-style Texas Republicanism is principle at the cost of place.

It’s difficult to tell what’s changed more since Clements ’78: Marylander Dan Goeb’s transition to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, or the GOP regard for local control.

THE POLITICAL genius of Patrick’s transgender bathroom bill is like a fragranced urinal screen — you forget the mess you’re stepping into.

In principle, it’s common sense that access to public bathrooms be based on birth gender. A Texas Political Project poll from October shows 74 percent of those who lean Republican agree.

But there’s a whiff of something else going on.

If protecting children is the basis for Senate Bill 6 then where’s the senatorial gusto to address the Child Protective Services or foster care crisis?

Didn’t SB 6 author Lois Kolkhorst help the effort to cut Medicaid to poor and disabled kids last session?

If imminent danger lurks in bathrooms, why exempt private businesses from SB 6?

I asked a House Republican what’s really going on.

“Leverage,” they replied.

SB 6 puts House GOP members in an undesirable political position — put unwanted regulations on influential local officials or face nasty re-elections ads.

The way out of the SB 6 stall could be to engage Patrick’s signature issues — appraisal caps and revenue caps.

Caps could make a big mess in West Texas.

TEXANS are dazed and confused by the state’s most obvious hidden tax — appraisals go up while tax rates stay the same.

School districts get about half of local property tax dollars, and most of the blame for hidden taxes.

But as Ross Ramsey keened in the Texas Tribune, lawmakers take “advantage of rising property values to avoid raising taxes — shrinking the state’s share and forcing property-tax-dependent local schools to keep rates high to make up the difference.”

State spending per-student is lower now than 10 years ago, and locals have made up the difference, Ramsey concluded.

The solution is school finance reform, not appraisal caps.

On revenue caps, a San Antonio Express-News editorial argued that with a 4 percent rollback rate, “San Antonio property owners would save $32.11 a year and the city lose $11.6 million.”

Then what should be cut? Police? Fire? Roads?…

Out in the counties — where economies rise and fall with oil and gas and annual rainfall — the more immediate question might be — can we afford a rollback election?

Hale County Judge Bill Coleman gave caps hell recently, chastising what the Plainview Daily Herald reported as the “bad habit” of politicians who “fail to provide adequate funds to make up for what they take away.”

Any rural official can tell you how the ‘cow ate the cabbage’ when Austin hinders them from raising revenues that Austin forces them to raise.

WEST TEXAS is an enormous constellation of small towns powered by school districts that prepare the next generation of citizen taxpayers, facilitate local culture and serve as primary economic engines.

Increasingly, “caps” become synonymous with “vouchers” as a euphemism for school consolidation — and when a community loses a school, the town may not be far behind.

More is risked if caps further squeeze rural hospital districts.

Caps may poll well in the suburbs, but survival rates much better where the food, fuel and fiber is produced.

Out in West Texas, where place is principle and local control is essential, you can understand fears that bathrooms could tip over the outhouse.

This op-ed was originally published in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.


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