With large-scale financing plans for transportation and water in the air, Tea Party activists cracked the whip at a Capitol news conference Monday, strongly criticizing officeholders' proposals for those and other projects.
Three days after Gov. Rick Perry raised the possibility of a number of new revenue streams for transportation funding, including the issuing of 100-year bonds to pay for road construction, members of Texas Tea Parties gathered to warn legislators about caving on conservative principles.
“We have to ask the question,” said JoAnn Fleming, the executive director of Grassroots America and adviser to the Tea Party Caucus Advisory Committee. “After this session, will Texas be stronger? Or will Texas be on a glide path to Washington, D.C.?
She told reporters that the Texas Tea Party sees the issue in stark terms and is prepared to mobilize against transportation revenue increases. Fleming called on legislators to “stop the borrow-and-spend practices in Texas government,” stop diverting money from constitutionally mandated sources of funding, and “stop digging holes” at a time when many Texas pension funds find themselves in serious financial trouble.
“In this building,” she said, “as soon as the comptroller’s estimates of revenue increased, you would have thought it was time to pop champagne corks.”
She also decried legislators’ willingness to dip into the Rainy Day Fund for the state's water plan, warning them not to do the same to fix the transportation shortfall, saying that the fund should be preserved as insurance against an economic shock.
“We need to preserve the Rainy Day Fund in case we have a hurricane that shuts down the Port of Houston,” she said. “And instead of our elected officials looking at their watch as they did in New Jersey, waiting for the federal government to show up, we believe our leaders should keep the fund intact, so that we aren’t stuck waiting for the federal government if we have a natural or manmade disaster.”
Terri Hall, the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, had particular criticism for Perry's 100-year bond plan, calling on Perry to “rethink his new plan to issue more debt to pay for transportation.”
“Texas is about to go off a fiscal cliff with road debt,” she said. “Generations of Texans are going to suffer for this generation’s failures to get it right.”
Fleming and Hall, standing in front of a group of Tea Party activists from around the state, expressed a willingness to discuss certain revenue diversions — such as a proposal from Perry and Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, to divert some motor vehicle sales tax revenue to the state's highway fund. But the use of that revenue for any other purpose, they said, would be treated as a tax increase.
“Our state leaders are really good at shaking their fists at the Obama administration for taking on too much debt, but they seem to have the same kind of program for Texas,” Fleming said, adding a call for Perry to “come back toward the side of liberty.”
When asked if the Tea Party’s grievances with Perry could lead them to support a primary opponent next year, Fleming left the possibility open.
“I try to never promise anything unless I believe I can deliver,” she said. “I can tell you that any vote that adds debt to this state, any program that leverages debt or adds debt, will be treated by us as a vote for a tax increase. And you know how we feel about that.”