Texas under Trump: Experts see economic trouble, uncertain on energy and abortion


by Katie Leslie

Source Dallas Morning News

Donald Trump rose in the polls because of Texas-centric issues: immigration and border security.

And while a 1,000-mile wall along the southern border would have the most impact on the Lone Star state, it’s less clear what a Trump presidency would mean for Texas in other ways.

Will his pledge to strike a “really good deal” on trade pacts be a boon or bust for Texas industries? Would Democrats finally have a shot at turning the crimson red state purple because of anti-Trump backlash? And what would his elastic stances on abortion mean for Texas laws?

Academics, business leaders and issue advocates agree that, even if a Trump presidency appears unlikely today, based on polls matching him up with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the presidential contender’s platform would have big effects statewide.

Diplomacy

That Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” didn’t help convince Republicans and Democrats alike that he has the necessary diplomatic skills needed as the leader of the free world. That’s just one of the many unpredictable things Trump has said on the trail.

“Diplomacy does not like knee-jerk reactions. Diplomats don’t like surprises by their nature,” said Jim Falk, chief executive officer of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Forth Worth, an organization promoting international political awareness. “From what I’ve seen in the campaign, he seems to do that.”

Falk said that in the early days of Trump’s candidacy, diplomats visiting with the council would chuckle at the thought of him in the Oval Office.

The mood, however, has changed. Representatives from at least two “major countries” told Falk in recent months that they’ve been asked by their respective governments to study the potential impact of a Trump presidency.

As someone whose job it is to promote international understanding, Falk wonders whether Trump’s nativist positions — such as his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country — would mean fewer people coming to Texas for work or school.

That would hurt the state’s economy and its long-term trade relationships, he said. In 2014, international students contributed $1.7 billion to the Texas economy and supported 21,500 jobs, according to a report from NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

“One of the reasons we’ve had such close ties with Middle Eastern businesses is because so many of their engineering folks” went to the University of Texas at Austin or Texas A&M University, he said.

Energy and environment

Ed Longanecker, president of the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association said oil and gas executives are eager to learn more about Trump’s energy policy.

Trump has said that policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions would “imperil jobs” and “the middle and lower classes.” He opposes a carbon tax and — despite significant scientific evidence that global warming is related to man-made activities — has called it a “hoax” manufactured by the Chinese. (He has since said he was joking.)

Longanecker, who said the climate issue is “exaggerated for political purposes” and to boost taxes, is encouraged by Trump’s skepticism of President Barack Obama’s climate change policies that are overhauling the energy industry. He takes that to mean Trump “appreciates the importance of domestic oil and natural gas production.”

Longanecker hopes that will translate to fewer regulations and taxes on his industry, which he says hurt production but yield little environmental benefit.

“He would bring a more sensible approach to regulating to our tax system, (industry regulations) and spending in Washington,” Longanecker said, stressing that his group does not endorse candidates.

He predicts a stronger economy under the Art of the Deal author, noting that he would create a “fairer” tax system that would keep more companies from moving overseas.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas – an environmental advocacy group  – is alarmed by Trump’s pledge during a March debate to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. That “would be a nightmare for Texas’ air and water and land,” Metzger said.

Metzger is concerned that downsizing, if not outright abolishing the EPA, would undo decades of advances in achieving clean air and water standards, especially harming 143,000 miles of Texas streams and wetlands, he said. What’s more, the EPA oversees the necessary permits businesses must obtain to ensure they’re compliant with environmental regulations.

These are “important life-saving measures,” Metzger said. “I’d be really worried under President Trump that those rules would be rescinded.”

Business

Bill Hammond, head of the Texas Association of Business, stopped short of calling Trump by name but left no doubt who he meant when he said: “The business community is apoplectic with regard to one candidate.”

A Trump presidency could crimp Texas trade, Hammond said, not just because of his harsh rhetoric towards the state’s No. 1 trade partner – Mexico – but also because of Trump’s wariness toward international trade agreements. Trump has lambasted deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement; Hammond’s group wants a president eager to expand trade.

“We’d like to see the entire world be a free trade zone because we know that people benefit,” he said.

Consumers would bear the ultimate cost of a trade war if Trump caused foreign governments to impose tariffs on U.S. goods, Hammond said.

But he’s even more concerned about Trump’s immigration stance, as Texas relies heavily on foreign labor, particularly in agriculture. As recently as this week, Trump called for a “pause” on immigration, and he has repeatedly vowed to round up and deport the more than 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally. That, Hammond said, would be devastating to the U.S. economy, and especially to Texas.

“It’s not that people in America won’t do those jobs; not enough of them will,”said Hammond, who called for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. and is in favor of guest worker programs. “We’re pushing agricultural production to Mexico. Is that what we really want?”

Taxes

Pam Villarreal, a senior fellow with the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, has studied the proposals of each presidential candidate.

The good news: Trump’s plan to simplify the tax code from seven to four brackets, while lowering the highest tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, would create jobs because “anytime you reduce taxes, you create more of an incentive to work and more of an incentive to invest,” she said.

Villarreal is less enthusiastic about his plan to increase the capital gains tax.

While it’s unclear exactly what the tax changes would mean in Texas, the think tank’s analysis suggests Trump’s proposal could lead to about 3.5 million new private sector jobs nationwide in the first year, with 1.3 percent growth in the U.S. gross domestic product. The same study predicts personal income levels would increase, though it’s unclear how that would be distributed, she said.

But there’s a problem, too, she noted: a potential budget shortfall. Trump proposes to slash taxes but has been less clear on the spending cuts needed to offset the difference.

“Obviously something has to give unless we keep printing money,” she said.

Her group predicts his policy would lead to about a $6.9 trillion reduction in federal revenues over a decade.

Abortion

Amanda Williams, executive director of the Lilith Fund – an Austin-based nonprofit providing financial assistance to women seeking to end their pregnancies  –  is among those trying to keep up with Trump’s shifting positions on abortion rights.

Trump said in March that, if abortion was outlawed, there should be “some form of punishment” for women who receive them.

He soon retracted that, saying only health-care providers who perform the procedures should be penalized.

As a nonprofit, the Lilith Fund doesn’t endorse candidates. But Williams is concerned about what a Trump presidency would mean in Texas, which has already seen more than half of its abortion clinics close as a result of a 2013 law requiring all doctors who perform abortions to maintain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and all abortions to be performed in hospital-like surgical facilities. That law is now being challenged before the Supreme Court.

“Having a president who is so vocally violent and hostile on this issue” would fuel the drive for more restrictions, she said.

Melissa Conway, the spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life, said abortion opponents don’t see a strong ally in Trump, who previously said he was in favor of abortion rights.

“His history has shown him to be wavering on the issue of life, when the life issue is a non-negotiable,” she said. “Without the regard for life and sanctity for life, then no other rights matter.”

Politics

Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, said it’s hard to know what a President Trump would mean for Texas party politics because of Trump’s tendency to change positions on issues.

“The open question is: Are we seeing the real Donald Trump, or are we essentially seeing the image Donald Trump is presenting to win the Republican primary?” he said.

Other Republicans, including rival Ted Cruz, have accused Trump of not being a true conservative. Jones is also doubtful Trump believes at least some of what he says, especially on immigration, noting it’s inconsistent with his past policies.

“By and large people do not change their ideological position as dramatically as Trump has done,” he said.

The degree to which Trump changes his tune after election would affect his ability to work with staunchly conservative Texas leaders such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who are strong Cruz supporters, Jones said.

Democrats have already begun to try to use the polarizing politician’s rhetoric to their benefit, predicting he will be a drag on the Republican down ballot ticket this fall. But should Trump move to the center, it’s less likely he would be a boon for the Democratic party’s long-run recruiting efforts, he said.

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