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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Secede? Be Careful What You Wish For

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


Doubtless by now you’ve seen or heard of the petition to allow Texas to secede from the United States. The petition is short, and I’ll quote it in its entirety:
The US continues to suffer economic difficulties stemming from the federal government's neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending. The citizens of the US suffer from blatant abuses of their rights such as the NDAA, the TSA, etc. Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect it's citizens' standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.
Grammar issues aside, does whoever wrote this petition not understand that our budget was balanced in part thanks to stimulus money from the federal government?

That aside, would it be economically feasible for Texas to become a sovereign nation? To do this, we need to examine what it’s going to take for for that to happen.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that the federal government tells Texas that they can leave. You know there will be strings attached, and that it’s going to be a messy, though peaceful, transition. First the feds are going to say, “wait a minute. There’s a little matter of those interstate highways we built, the military bases, the national park land, all those dams and flood plains we built and maintain. You don’t think we’re just going to hand them over, do you?

And thus the negotiations begin. They will involve politicians, bureaucrats, and lawyers versed in constitutional law.

There are your winners right there, folks. But let’s dismiss that for the moment and continue.

So the feds are going to withdraw their military personnel and equipment. Sure, some soldiers will decide to take Texas citizenship, but they’ll come without essential gear. Next, the feds will probably demand that defense contractors take their business out of Texas. Then they close down all the federal offices, remove the courts, take away the FBI, the Border Patrol, and stop welfare payments.

Hey, stopping welfare payments is fine, you say. Maybe all those freeloaders will get a job or move. But wait, as they say on late night TV, there’s more!

The next point of negotiation will be Social Security and Medicare benefits. Texas has a LOT of workers who have paid into those systems all of their working lives. Is Texas prepared to take over those systems, or do they just let grandma fend for herself? This is Texas, after all. The land of personal responsibility, and the home of tea party ideology. Don’t let the government meddle in their Social Security.

As if that’s going to work. Seriously, that alone is going to be a major point of negotiation.

So now Texas is left without a military or a border patrol. They have to start their own. With what? The type of hardware required to do that job (not just weapons, but high tech gear) isn’t cheap, not to mention uniforms and the small matter of paying all those soldiers and agents and support staff. Sure, you’ve got some empty bases sitting around, but Texas will be essentially starting from scratch.

The next thing Texas is going to have to deal with is immigration and emigration. Some native sons and daughters are going to want to come back home. Other residents will flee as fast as they can. Maybe there will be a balance in terms of demographics and skill sets needed to keep the economy going. Maybe not. And what about the businesses who see the uncertainty of Texas going on their own as bad for business and move out? Will they be offset by new business start ups?

And we’ve barely touched on how to pay for all this, which brings me to the elephant in the room: oil. Yep, Texas is a net oil producer. It’s also the largest energy consumer in the US by far, meaning that a significant portion of that oil is going to stay in Texas. But what about the rest? Maybe you just tax the hell out of all the oil going out. Great. Now how do you encourage exploration? How do you keep refineries from jumping back to the US where they can sell their products directly? Sure, some will stay in Texas, and probably love the lower environmental standards. But if oil-based energy consumption declines in the US due to cost, some refineries will close and move away to where it’s cheaper to do business. Some may shut down completely. What if Texas had to ship their oil to another state to be refined? Oh, the irony. No, I don’t think that will happen, but I don’t think oil will be the boon everyone else thinks it is, at least not in the long run.

Because there’s another elephant in the room: revenue. Oil taxes aren’t going to cut it. Texas has been known as a state with no income tax and low taxes on business. The new nation is going to face some tough choices. They’re going to have to pay for this new infrastructure somehow. They may be able to create a leaner, meaner government, but what about a strong national defense? What about securing the border? What about paying for upkeep on roads? (The answer to the last question has been tolls.) If they’re smart, they’ll keep the portion of gas taxes that had been paid to the federal government, which would be a start. But where does the rest of the money come from? Income tax? Business tax? Cuts to essentials like education? Yep, Texas is going to be faced with the same problems they ran away from. If they raise revenue by taxing business, they’re going to risk losing all those companies they worked hard to bring to the state. So how do you raise revenue? Is a tax on oil exports enough? Beer exports? Hmmm.... ;-)

One other pesky energy fact: To keep the lights on, Texas has to import coal. You don’t think the US would tax the crap out of that in return for Texas taxing oil exports, do you?

And then, what about the new government? Hoo boy, is that gonna be fun. Every faction will want a seat at the table, but I predict it’s going to take serious money to buy a spot. Which will make it ripe for some self-appointed militia group to drop in and cause trouble. They’d better hope that military and security infrastructure is in place.

I won’t say it can’t be done, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Remember those lawyers? How do you think they got their seats at the government table? Big money politics is still going to rule. In the end, very little will change.

Be careful what you wish for.

Tags: Politics

Filed under: Politics            
11/13/2012 11:11:23 AM
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