Opinion

The headline over a recent article in the Economist proclaimed: “The Future is Texas: If you want to know where America is heading, start by studying the Lone Star State.” It went on to gush about the state’s “incredible ability to make something out of nothing,” its “openness,” (?) and its “creativity.”

It also noted that Texas “is the land of low taxes, weak trade unions, a shriveled public sector and a paltry welfare state.”

What it didn’t point out, and what it probably should have, is that the state is in the midst of taking crony capitalism to new heights because the business lobby has taken unprecedented control of state government.

Their aim is to channel more public funds into the hands of favored businesses, privatize as much wealth as possible, and give business a free rein to maim, loot, and pollute without regard to the public interest. If the Bush cartel and the Republican National Committee have their way, what is happening in Texas today could well be the future of the U.S.!

The cozy relation between state government and business has been on gaudy display since the Republican sweep of all state offices in last November’s election. As Andrew Wheat said in the Texas Observer, “rather than having corporations pay lobbyists millions of dollars to influence government, the state’s new leaders recruited some of Texas’ most powerful lobbyists to run the government directly.”

Tommy Craddick, a veteran right-wing Republican back-bencher poised to become the Speaker of the House when the legislature convened Jan. 14, appointed three business lobbyists to manage his transition team: Bill Miller, Bill Messer, and Bill Ceverha. They represent clients from the pharmaceutical, property insurance, and health insurance industries.

Gov. Rick Perry tapped Mike Toomey to be his chief of staff. Toomey is a lobbyist for, among other companies, Reliant Energy, Texas’s largest private energy company. These new public servants also represent some of the state’s major polluters: ARCO, Koch, Eastman Chemical, Rohm & Haas, and Alcoa.

This new lineup in state government has the access capitalist crowd salivating. The Texas Association of Business (TAB) recently issued its legislative agenda, which calls for more privatization of government services, an end to dues checkoff for public employees, stifling any new laws that may interfere with the right of bosses to bust unions and maintain absolute control over their workers, and no new taxes for businesses (even though Texas is facing a $5 billion to $12 billion budget dollar shortfall).

There’s a good chance that TAB may get its wish list fulfilled because its executive director, Bill Hammond, has been mentioned as Speaker Craddick’s new chief of staff.

The privatization of Texas government took another leap with the ascendancy of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. This right-wing think-tank out of San Antonio has been a major proponent of school vouchers and an opponent of the right to choose, unions, and affirmative action. It gave substantial contributions to the right-wing Republicans who now control state government. The foundation used its connections to encourage new and returning members of the legislature to attend its legislative seminar in Austin prior to the legislature’s convening. The purpose of the seminar was to build support for its agenda of no taxes for the rich, cutbacks in government services, and privatization of education and government services.

Texas has always been known as a business-friendly state. It’s a right-to-work-for-less state, it has a regressive tax structure that imposes the biggest tax burden on low- and middle-income families, it has huge loopholes that allow companies such as Dell and SBC to avoid paying any franchise taxes, and its unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation programs are among the least generous of all states. It’s hard to imagine how things could get worse, but the business lobby and their friends in public office are certainly going to give it a try!

John Lane is a writer from Austin, Tex. He can be reached at pww@pww.org

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