Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Is Texas Headed for a Fall?

As regular readers know, I lived in Texas for three years.  I loved the food and scenery there, and made some great friends, but was nevertheless determined that my children would not be brought up there.  In terms of its political, economic, and social models, I found Texas to be an intolerable place to live.  Strangely enough, governor Rick Perry has been going around trying to persuade businesses to come to Texas (and devastate their current communities) on the basis of those models. In his mind, Texas is a paradise of freedom, if by "freedom" you mean low regulations and taxes, not the right to vote, or marry who you wish.

While on the surface Texas looks to be successful in its pitch, I can see a potential big fall on the horizon, and one directly attributable to its insanely reactionary politics.  Perry is trying to draw in businesses from the West Coast and Northeast, and while businessmen there might share his views on taxation and regulation, they are likely to be horrified by other aspects of Texas society.

You can just look at last week's news for evidence.  In the face of growing support for same sex marriage rights and gay rights more broadly, Perry compared the Boy Scouts' stand against admitting gays to the opposition to slavery.  Evidently his hatred of gays makes him the moral equivalent of Abraham Lincoln in his mind.  The state's attorney general has recently ruled that domestic partnerships are unconstitutional under state law.  This could potentially prevent employers who have been giving domestic partner benefits from doing so.  I get the feeling that a lot of companies would be wary of relocating to a place where many of their employees would be defined as second class citizens.

Also this week, the Texas legislature has responded to post-Sandy Hook calls for more gun control by declaring "gun day" and voting for twelve measures to increase access to guns and their use, including in college classrooms.  In the midst of the growing wave of gun violence and concern about public safety, moves like this hardly make Texas look like a place you would want to uproot your life to move to.

The news coming out of West, Texas, has shown the consequences of the state's light regulatory environment.  The fertilizer plant hadn't been inspected since 1986, and the lack of zoning laws meant that schools and homes were located next to a potential powder keg.  We have business regulations to protect the safety of the public, something that the explosion in West has demonstrated as much as the Triangle Fire did back in 1911.  Are people from outside of Texas going to be anxious to flock to a place with such dangers lurking, including fearsomely high rates of pollution?

Texas' anti-tax ways have also had real consequences.  The social safety net is threadbare, meaning that Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the country.  This effectively creates a burden for employers, who must provide benefits and support that the state will not.  Texas has also slashed education funding, and I seriously doubt that companies would want to relocate to a place with such a poorly trained workforce.

Rick Perry and other purveyors of the Texas Way are really just trying to entice business to their state with the lure of cheap labor and low taxes.  In our changing economy, however, more cutting edge businesses will require a lot more than that.  They will certainly want to draw in young, educated employees, just the type who will be turned off by Texas' reactionary nature.  The Texas Way is fast making the Lone Star State look like an embarrassing relic, rather than a future-oriented place.  I get the feeling that fewer and fewer people are going to find its pull alluring.

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