A Family Fix for Texas’ Fiscal Funk

26 Jan

by Roger White

Life in my family is surely like life in many families across Texas and the nation: Mom and dad work to pay the bills; we try hard not to extend our credit beyond our means; our kids must tend to their academics before they can play; and we try to give back what we can to causes we cherish.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about Texas’ fiscal situation—namely the 82nd Legislature’s estimated $27 billion deficit and the dire conditions our public school districts face in the months and years ahead. It is tragic. Schools are being closed; teachers are being laid off by the hundreds; facility construction, renewal, and maintenance are stagnating; and, most importantly, our students are facing the prospect of not receiving the education they so deserve.

 

Schoolwork First, then Playtime

I have a simple solution—simplistic, actually. What if we thought of our state, and everything in it, as one big Lone-Star-sized family? And in that aspect, we prioritize things. For example, we tend to the state’s academics before we can play. Now, think about this for a minute. If we as a people truly hold the education of our children in the highest regard, why then are we paying college football coaches, for instance, millions of dollars while our public school teachers struggle to make ends meet?

Don’t get me wrong. I like football as much as the next guy, but does a man who instructs players in how to block and tackle in what is essentially a kid’s game really need to be making more than $500,000 a year? USA Today reported some of the top Texas college coaches’ salaries as of 2010 as the following (not including bonuses):

• Mack Brown, University of Texas, $5.1 million (the highest-paid coach in college football)

• Mike Sherman, Texas A&M, $1.8 million

• Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech, $1.5 million

• Kevin Sumlin, Houston, $1 million

 

It may just be me, but I think half a million bucks is a fine salary, no matter the job. So say the state put a ceiling on outrageous pay such as this—call it the Outrageous Salary Ceiling. If we instituted an OSC on college coaches and mandate that the universities donate the savings to state coffers, from these four salaries alone you would save $7.4 million.

And speaking of children’s games, Forbes Magazine listed the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans of the National Football League as having the Number 1 and Number 5 top net financial worth rankings, respectively, in the league as of 2009. The Cowboys were listed as being worth $1.85 billion; the Texans $1.71 billion. If the state could issue a Kids’ Games Tax on these franchises of $100 million each, there’s $200 million right there.

Forbes also listed the state’s three National Basketball Association teams—Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and San Antonio Spurs—as having the number 6 ($470 million), 7 ($446 million), and 10 ($398 million) top net worth rankings, respectively, in the league as of December 2009. Applying a KGT to these franchises at, say, $30 million each would give the state another $90 million.

Likewise, Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros and Texas Rangers are 10th and 11th, respectively, in their league’s list of net worth rankings, coming in at $453 million and $451 million. The Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League are worth $227 million. A $30 million KGT on these franchises adds yet another $90 million.

We’re at $387.4 million saved, just from placing academics ahead of athletics.

Giving Back

Now, keeping in the family milieu, what about giving back what we can? Turning again to Forbes, the magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans contains the following 25 richest Texans (followed by their net wealth):

• Alice Walton (Wal-Mart)                             $20 billion                                          

• Michael Dell (Dell)                                       $14 billion

• Andrew Beal (banking, real estate)              $6 billion

• Charles Butt (supermarkets)                         $5.3 billion

• Richard Kinder (pipelines)                           $5.2 billion

• Harold Simmons (investments)                    $5 billion

• Ray Lee Hunt (oil, real estate)                     $4.3 billion

• John Paul DeJoria (hair products, tequila)    $4.2 billion

• Robert Rowling (investments)                     $4.1 billion

• Robert Bass (oil, investments)                      $4 billion

• H. Ross Perot Sr. (computers, real estate)    $3.4 billion

• John Arnold (hedge funds)                          $3.3 billion

• Randa Williams (pipelines)                           $3.1 billion

• Dannine Avara (pipelines)                            $3.1 billion

• Milane Frantz (pipelines)                              $3.1 billion

• Scott Duncan (pipelines)                              $3.1 billion

• Trevor Rees-Jones (oil, gas)                          $3 billion

• Timothy Headington (oil, investments)        $2.65 billion

• Mark Cuban (Broadcast.com)                      $2.5 billion

• Richard Rainwater (real estate, energy)       $2.3 billion

• Rodney Lewis (natural gas)                         $2.25 billion

• Lee Bass (oil, investments)                           $2 billion

• George Mitchell (energy)                             $2 billion

• Sid Bass (oil, investments)                           $2 billion

• Jerry Jones (NFL team owner)                     $2 billion

If you’re not certain how much one billion dollars is, it’s a thousand million dollars. Each of the above fine folks has at least two thousand million bucks, some much more. If each of these billionaires contributed $500 million each, they would not only get fantastic tax write-offs, they would add $12.5 billion to the state’s sadly depleted account. Now we’re at $12,887,400,000.

The next-richest Texans, according to Forbes, are the following:

Jeffrey Hildebrand (oil)                                  $1.9 billion

David Bonderman (leveraged buyouts)          $1.8 billion

Kelcy Warren (pipelines)                                $1.8 billion

Edward Bass (oil, investments)                      $1.5 billion

Joe Jamail (lawsuits)                                       $1.5 billion

Thomas Friedkin (car dealerships)                  $1.5 billion

Drayton McLane (Wal-Mart, logistics)           $1.45 billion

Robert McNair (energy, sports)                      $1.4 billion

Gerald J. Ford (banking)                                 $1.4 billion

T. Boone Pickens (oil, investments)                $1.4 billion

H. Ross Perot Jr. (computers, real estate)       $1.4 billion

Chistopher Goldsbury (salsa)                          $1.3 billion

Billy Joe McCombs (radio, oil, real estate)     $1.3 billion

Ray Davis (pipelines)                                      $1.3 billion

Todd Wagner (Broadcast.com)                      $1.2 billion

Kenneth Adams (oil)                                      $1.15 billion

William Moncrief (oil)                                    $1.1 billion

Kenny Troutt (communications)                     $1.1 billion

Samuel Wyly (investments)                            $1 billion

Darwin Deason (computers)                           $1 billion

Since these guys have a paltry $1 billion or so, let’s say they give only $250 million each. That’s $5 billion, which brings our total to more than $17.88 billion.

Throw in $750 million in federal education money Governor Rick Perry so blithely rejected because, as Perry said, Texas “would have to follow national curriculum standards” (what is he smoking?), and we now have well more than $18 billion. I’ll put my money where my mouth is and throw in $100, which tops us off at $18,637,400,100. That would pay plenty of teacher salaries; that could open lots of shiny, new school buildings.

I realize this is a ridiculous exercise. Things don’t work this way. It’s also just as ridiculous, however, that Texas public education should be in such a desperate financial situation. What if we really did make education a priority?

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat daschund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

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5 Responses to “A Family Fix for Texas’ Fiscal Funk”

  1. Uncle Paul January 26, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Good show ..This subject is certainly in need of attention

  2. Mary S. Cook January 26, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    To many implementing the ideas in this story probably sound ludicrous, but are they any more ludicrous than not educating our children, having the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation and watching our Texas Legislators trying to fix the budget crisis? I think not.

  3. Jason Roeber January 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Let’s not forget that AISD spends over $4 mil on athletics every year. I don’t think it should be eliminated by any means but it should be funded separately by the community, just like little league, kids soccer and other after schoo sports.

    Also Allen Texas is spending $65 mil on a high school football stadium!

    • Sandy January 27, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

      Roger White for Texas Comptroller in 2014!

      The whole football thing is such an upside down value system. I like college football, too, but $5 million per year while teachers are being fired? Come on, Texas!

  4. Kimberly February 19, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    While I definitely agree that teachers need to make more and we should probably spend less on coaches’ salaries, the State of Texas does not spend one penny on Mack Brown’s salary (I don’t know about the other schools). MB’s 5.1 million is paid by the Longhorn Foundation, aka the donors. Perhaps you can get them to donate to education instead.

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