AUSTIN -- Sinners of Texas, unite! We have nothing to lose but our vices! In case you hadn't noticed, our only governor, Goodhair Perry, is fixing to tax the bejeezus out of us. It's not as though the state's topers, gamblers and smokers aren't already putting in well more than our fair share. And do we get any recognition for it? Do we get any respect? We do not! All we get is a bunch of Baptists telling us we're going to hell. As we lift our heavy glasses in bars from El Paso to Corpus, as we puff poison into our lungs from Amarillo to Laredo, nobly sacrificing our health for the sake of better education, we are despised and scorned. If it weren't for sinners, this state would be broke already. Now the man wants to pile even more taxes on us. We have to draw the line somewhere: I want to make it clear that much as I support public education, I will not go to topless bars for the sake of the schoolchildren of Texas.

            What a way to finance public schools. The state is now in the position of encouraging sin in order to tax it. Where are the Baptists when we need them? If this keeps up, they'll be encouraging us all to frequent burlesque joints just so they can keep the school doors open. They're not taxing sin. They're taxing addiction. Why don't they tax lust, greed and gluttony? Why don't they tax hypocrisy, venality and usury? Why don't they tax pollution, fraud, fat and idiots in public office? Mah fellow sinners, we need ourselves a lobby.

            Sheesh, what a state. Serve them all right if all the sinners took to AA and Gamblers Anonymous in droves. Our taxes are so heavy now, half of us are in Debtors Anonymous already.

            OK, enough complaining. If we want good schools, we ought to pay for them. That means you, me, businesses, corporations, lawyers and doctors. There are two simple rules of taxation: First, put the taxes where the money is. You think Exxon/Mobil, which isn't paying any taxes anyway, can't afford a hit better than some schnook who buys a lottery ticket every week because it's the only hope he'll ever have of getting rich? Second, the fairest form of taxation ever devised by man is the graduated income tax. How we Texans ever managed to convince ourselves different is a source of continuing amazement to me. The rules of fair income taxation are pretty simple, too: It shouldn't even go into effect on anyone who isn't making a living wage. B. Rapoport of Waco makes $1 million a year. He pays $400,000 in taxes, and that leaves him $600,000 to live on. He says, "You gonna feel sorry for me? You think I'm suffering?"

            David Cay Johnson of the New York Times wrote last week, "The trend toward raising sin taxes, and allowing more behavior that brings in such taxes, comes as elected officials are under pressure to sign pledges that they will never vote to raise taxes. Such pledges are being promoted by anti-tax groups like the Club for Growth, which have worked to make 'tax' a word so vile that many officials would rather make gambling as convenient as buying gasoline and have the state keep count of topless-bar customers rather than consider fundamental changes in its tax structure."

            Here's the trick President Bush and all the rest of these Republicans are running on you. They tell you they're giving you a big tax cut, but all that happens is they cut taxes on rich people and throw more and more of the tax burden back on the middle class. You get a hundred bucks back, B. Rapoport (who doesn't need the money) gets back $60 grand, and they tell you to be grateful for your big tax cut. They cut the taxes on dividends, which is money people don't work for, and increase taxes on the money you do have to work for. I've been watching the Texas Legislature for 35 years, and I know why our tax system is so screwed. It's because big corporate interests and special interest lobbyists pony up the campaign contributions for politicians to run on. So when the pols get in office, they owe lumber interests and insurance, oil, banking and chemical. They're supposed to represent you, the people of this state, but they don't, they represent their campaign contributors. And you can't imagine how many slick ways the lobbyists dream up for letting those big contributors off the tax hook. For the big corporate interests, even a huge campaign contribution is just pennies on the hundreds of millions they buy themselves in tax breaks.

            The only way to fix this is to fix the way campaigns are financed. The public needs to pay for political campaigns. The oldest saying in politics is: "You got to dance with them what brung you." We need to fix the system so that when people get elected, they don't owe anyone but us, the people.

            To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.