As most of the country struggles with the effects of stagflation and is either in or will soon be in a recession, Texas has been an economic leader. The Texas Model of economic freedom with the strongest state spending limit in the nation, no personal income tax, sensible regulations, and a relatively low cost of living have helped sustain this leadership.
No wonder 54 of the Fortune 500 companies call Texas home—most of any state. But excessive local spending and taxing must be addressed to improve ways to let people prosper.
Net nonfarm jobs in Texas increased by 74,200 in May, resulting in increases in 24 of the last 25 months and the 7th consecutive month of record-high employment. Compared with a year ago, employment was up by 762,400 (+6.1%) with the private sector adding 733,900 jobs (+6.9%) and the government adding 28,500 jobs (+1.5%). Compared with February 2020 before the pandemic-related shutdown, the state’s labor force participation rate is higher at 63.7%, employment-population ratio is close at 61.1%, and private sector employment is up 410,000 jobs.
States with limited government better support opportunities for people to gain self-sufficiency and flourish. Erik Randolph at the Georgia Center for Opportunity calculates that Texas’ private sector employment is 98.9% of its pre-shutdown trend, which ranks sixth best nationwide. Overall, 22 of the 25 best-performing states are red-leaning states and 12 of the 14 worst performing states lean blue.
These data are insightful because only Republican governors, with the exception of Louisiana, ended the enhanced supplemental unemployment payments that contributed to some people receiving more payments than while working well before the payments expired in September 2021. Texas ended these enhanced payments in June 2021.
Clearly, incentives matter.
In fact, the positive effects of this decision and more well-paid jobs in Texas helped increase personal income by an annualized 4.6% in the first quarter of 2022 even as many federal safety-net payments without work requirements expired.
But Texas faces challenges.
Bad policies primarily out of Washington have contributed to stagflation. Recent data show that Texas’ inflation-adjusted economic output declined by 2.6% on an annualized basis in the first quarter of 2022, more than the 1.6% decline nationally. This was after Texas led the way with 10.1% growth in the fourth quarter of 2021. The decline in the first quarter indicates that elevated inflation, less investment, and other factors are reducing economic activity.
This stagnating economic growth hasn’t hit the labor market yet, which has a 4.2% unemployment rate, but the labor market is a lagging economic indicator. Fortunately, Texas has been doing better than many states as people and businesses move to the Lone Star State.
Texas must do more to combat Washington’s irresponsible policies and remain a leader.
The affordability crisis of a 40-year high inflation, record-high home values, and skyrocketing property taxes are hurting Texans. While Texas can’t directly influence the inflation rate—which is driven by excessive money printing by the Federal Reserve fueled by out-of-control spending by Congress, it can help with the housing affordability issue by reducing local zoning restrictions and reducing property taxes.
Texas is expected to have about $30 billion in extra taxpayer dollars available next session. As Governor Greg Abbott recently tweeted, “We must use a substantial portion of this money to cut property taxes in Texas.” We agree as there is a need to cut school district maintenance and operations (M&O) property taxes, which is about half of most Texan’s property tax bill and part of a renters’ rent.
The Legislature ought to hold spending growth below population growth plus inflation as it has in the last four initial biennial budgets, and even more so now given less spending equals more money in struggling Texans’ pocket. Then use the surplus to dramatically cut school district M&O property taxes while funding core services.
But the Foundation’s recent report shows how many local governments have been spending excessively. They should pass responsible budgets that spend less than this metric to be consistent with the state’s fiscal prudence and help Texas be more affordable statewide. Doing so will give many local governments the opportunity to compress their own M&O property taxes and fund essential provisions.
Texas ought to strengthen its successful model by reducing and ultimately eliminating arcane M&O property taxes that hinder people from keeping or ever actually owning their home. There is a historic opportunity to at least lower property tax bills next session if governments limit spending and rightly make taxpayers the priority.