in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
I think Dickens’ summary could apply to this moment in our history, too. If we are to avoid the consequences of that time, figuratively and literally, we need to keep in mind some critical points:
- We indeed are at a “cross-roads” (or “tipping point,” or whatever metaphor you want to use to describe it this moment) in our history, and we are going to have to choose a turn in direction—staying on the same path is no longer a viable option;
- The problems we currently face with the current path have been in the making for over 100 years, and will not be fixed by making a quick turn in direction;
- There is no Golden Age or Dark Age in our country’s history, the narrative for which will give us absolute guidance in making our choice of direction, but the principles that helped guide the settlement and creation of this nation are still the most effective guardrails for the continuation of our journey;
- We must be bold and courageous in facing and making our choices, while avoiding reckless decisions that could imperil our future.
With these points in mind, I want to pull together some thoughts I have written about recently into a proposal for action in Texas for each of us to consider. But before I lay out that proposal, I want to digress for a moment to something our Founders said.
Immediately after the reference to our inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote the following sentence:
That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Unfortunately, because the Declaration was written in the context of a revolution, whenever this sentence is quoted in the context of a policy debate, some people begin to fear that the speaker is advocating violent action against our government. But the Founders’ own use of this quote tells of a different intent. In at least three of the Federalist Papers, Madison and Hamilton both refer to this right “to alter or to abolish” the government, or even the Constitution itself, as a basic political right essential to republican government. In Federalist Paper No. 39, Madison discusses the provision in the Constitution providing for amendments as creating a blended process for altering or abolishing the Constitution involving both the people and the States. In Federalist Paper No. 40, Madison cites this right “to abolish or alter their governments” as providing the Philadelphia Convention with the authority it needed to draft a new Constitution, rather than just amend the Articles of Confederation. In Federalist Paper No. 78, Hamilton explains that, while the right to alter or abolish the Constitution rests with the people, neither the legislature, nor the courts can make laws that would violate the Constitution even if they say they are acting on behalf of a majority of the people.
Consistent with what the Founders said, I believe it is time for the people to demand that their elected representatives alter and re-organize government at all levels in a manner consistent with the original federal framework provided in the Constitution, which emphasized the primacy of local governance. This demand must be made knowing that the process will not be easy, and that it will take years—but it must start now. And Texas is the best laboratory in which to start the process.
To start this process, I urge the legislature to consider taking the following steps before the General Session ends in May:
- Adopt a budget based on the $72.2 billion revenue projection and on the current structure of our state and local governments through the next biennium; and, then,
- Begin the process of re-organizing the role of state and local governments from the bottom-up.
To accomplish the re-organization, I propose that the House and the Senate appoint a joint committee for re-organization, with sub-committees to address physical and mental health care, education, infrastructure, and the judicial and penal systems. Then, each sub-committee should work with a task force constituted as follows:
- For health-care, the task force should be comprised of county government officials, public hospital district administrators, and administrators of key charitable and educational hospital systems; and its focus should be on creating or maintaining community-centered hospitals and clinics as the primary vehicle for providing all public health care and financial assistance for health care in this state, and for establishing a local revenue stream for such a system to be administered at the county or regional level;
- For education, the task force should be comprised school board trustees and district superintendents, and community college trustees; and its focus should be on re-structuring the educational delivery system from the classroom up, on streamlining the school district network by breaking-up districts that are too large and combining those that are too small, on establishing a fair revenue stream derived from local or regional taxes to be collected and administered by the local governing bodies for the schools;
- For transportation, the task force should be comprised of city and county officials and transportation and flood control administrators; and its focus should be on streamlining the process for identifying local infrastructure needs and providing the local revenue streams and administration for such projects, and for the coordination of such projects with the transportation and infrastructure needs for the entire state; and
- For the judicial and penal systems, the task force should include county officials, judges, sheriffs, and jail administrators; and its focus should be on streamlining the appellate judiciary, reforming judicial selection, creating innovative monitoring systems for first-time offenders, and other issues to reduce the overall cost and increase the overall efficiency of the systems.
Then, based on the work of these sub-committees, a blueprint should be created for the next biennium that would redirect the administration, costs and taxes to as local a level as possible with as little state involvement or administrative overlap as possible. Each school district and county, as well as the state, should then be encouraged to create zero-based budgets based on this new blueprint, while the proper legislative committees should prepare enabling legislation or constitutional amendments that may be needed to implement the blueprint. This legislation should include a new sunset-review process that requires zero-based budgeting for each biennium at the state level, and zero-based budgeting at all levels of government.
I know, you’re now probably thinking that this can’t be done, so why even consider what I’ve just outlined. Well, consider this—three years ago, did you ever think we would win back the U.S. House of Representatives and gain a 101-seat majority in the Texas House? You see, the improbable can be accomplished if we have the will to do it.
If we don’t choose a path this bold, another path—the path of continued muddled, expensive and ever-expanding government—will destroy our economic future. The status quo is not only unacceptable, it is no longer viable. We must start down another path now. If we in Texas take this lead and show it can work, the nation will follow.
On the other hand, if you think we shouldn’t take the path I’ve proposed, then what do you propose?