The Texas Triangle Revisited

In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell discusses the sociological reality that those who have are often given more while those who do not have tend to get even less. For example: interest paid to the wealthy, top students getting the best instruction, the biggest 10-year-olds receiving select athletic coaching. Gladwell refers to Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25 where a fearful servant fails to invest his money. He gets stripped of it and tossed into darkness. Texas should heed the warning.

Through a smart tax structure, a business-friendly regulatory environment, a self-controlled Legislature and a diversified economy, Texas sits economically healthier than any other major state.

It learned some lessons from the 80s. Its Republican leadership has governed well. Because Texas is red politically, it’s black fiscally.

While California cobbled together a state budget that started $42 billion in the red, Texas balanced its budget without major cuts or any tax increases. It kept its $6.6 billion “rainy day fund” whole and expects the fund to grow to $9.1 billion by 2011.

What to do with this “fund balance?” The Legislature could return it to the people. It is over-collected taxes, after all. And $9.1 billion divided by 24 million Texans equals $375 per person. Not a bad bonus in tough times.

Or it could leave the fund alone. But author John Maxwell’s wisdom often rings true: those who carry emergency bags are usually the ones who need them.

Perhaps a collective investment in the economic future of our state is in order. Perhaps high-speed rail’s time has come.

Texas attempted it 20 years ago. The Legislature created a high-speed rail authority to construct a “Texas Triangle” connecting Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The authority made significant progress, but financing difficulties, lack of federal support, Southwest Airlines and rural opposition ultimately combined to shelve the idea.

Today, Interstate 35 is a death trap. The Trans-Texas Corridor (Governor Perry’s plan to criss-cross the state with separate freight and passenger lanes) is dead. Southwest Airlines is alive and thriving nationwide. Airport security is a pain, especially for short flights.

Earlier this year, the federal stimulus package earmarked $13 billion over the next five years for high-speed rail projects. The money starts flowing later this fall.

Maybe the Texas Triangle should be revived in time to get some. The Feds will surely want to see local investment. Unlike most other states, Texas has cash in the bank.

Texas’ population is more concentrated than ever. Two-thirds of Texans (16 million) live in DFW, Austin-San Antonio and Houston. Promoting the exchange of knowledge, ideas and other human resources between these population centers will strengthen our economic vitality and prospects.

If high-speed rail gets us there, it may be a good investment. In our modern, mobile, knowledge-based society, it’s hard to argue that fast, clean and affordable transportation is a bad one.

And the state that has will be given more.

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