Texas is experiencing exponential growth. This is not news to anyone living in one of the Texas cities at the center of this population boom. With overcrowded freeways and a strained water supply, Rick Perry's 'Texas miracle' of business and population expansion is impossible to miss.
Though Perry may be right in pointing to low taxes in the state as key drivers of this migration of both people and business, it is this same focus on low taxes and low spending that could spell doom for Texas' infrastructure, the Wall Street Journal reports. When that time comes, Perry will be far away from the Governor's mansion, and it will be up to someone else to clean up his mess.
More on how the 'Texas miracle' is anything but below the jump.The population growth seen in Texas in recent years is astounding. 1.3 million people moved to Texas between 2010 and 2013, making Texas the fastest growing state in the country. Between July 2011 and July 2012, half of the cities in the United States with the greatest population growth were in Texas. Houston gained almost 35,000 new residents, and Austin has grown to be more populous than San Fransisco.
A large part of the attraction in Texas is that it wasn't really hit by the recession. Not only did the economy barely experience a trough, but the unemployment rate in Texas is lower than the national average. Many businesses are still planning to move into the state, with Toyota and Epicor Software moving this year.
Low taxes and a thriving economy attract these businesses to the state, but the realities of the underfunded infrastructure are causing headaches for established companies. The grocery chain H.E.B. has complained about a lack of spending on roads and infrastructure. The former head of the company's transportation logistics explained that the “cost of congestion is a hidden tax.” He added, “We are behind in Texas on infrastructure and are getting more behind every year.”
Though Texas may be number one in growth, it lags far behind in spending on infrastructure. It was 45th in the nation in 2012 for highway spending. Lloyd Potter, Texas State Demographer and Rick Perry appointee, sees a long term mandate for increased investment:
We are already straining our systems for water, power, schools and roads. And they'll continue to be stressed unless we invest more heavily.
Governor Perry clearly believes that these infrastructure problems can be addressed without increasing taxes or state spending, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. In prepared remarks on the issue, Perry said,
No state can tax and spend its way to prosperity, but with the right policies you can grow your way there…we can make principled investments in our future without raising taxes.
While this may be well and good in Perry's world, for the major cities trying to address their current infrastructure needs the state's lack of funding translates into increased debt. Many of the large cities in Texas have had to borrow in order to address their water and road issues resulting from this massive population increase.
The issues facing our cities are not small problems. San Antonio is facing a water crisis. The plans that are in place, such as decreased water consumption and a long-term plan for a desalination plant, are still not adequate to address the city's growing need for water. And as Austin struggles to handle its rapidly increasing number of residents, the existing highway infrastructure is failing to meet the need. The city is currently the fourth most congested in the entire country.
For some Republicans in the Texas legislature, Perry's laissez-faire approach to addressing this gap in funding does not cut it. Republican State Senator Kevin Eltife sees the writing on the wall:
We all want to go around and beat our chest that Texas is the best place to do business, but we need to pay for the infrastructure needs that go with growth. I get bashed for wanting to raise taxes, but I'd rather tell the truth to taxpayers.
Perry is not up for re-election in November. His time as the Governor of Texas, and the one tasked with cleaning up this infrastructure funding mess, is limited. Most of the problems resulting from the 'miraculous' population boom won't be addressed until long after he has vacated the Governor's mansion. Though all his talk about the “Texas miracle” is to Perry's benefit on the national scene, it will be up to Texas voters and future office-holders left behind to clean up the mess.