Perry Veto Fails Texas Community Colleges
Opinion/Editorial by State Senator Glenn Hegar
Last month, Texas Governor Rick Perry misused his line-item veto power to kill over $154 million in state funding for community college health care benefits from the state's two-year budget, which had overwhelmingly been approved by state lawmakers at the end of the 80th Texas Legislature. Governor Perry's veto was a devastating setback to Texas' efforts to close the gaps in higher education. Even though the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency have consistently communicated the vital role community colleges play in educating Texas' future leaders, the Governor chose politics instead of pragmatic leadership. Adding insult to injury, the Governor is attempting to quell the gathering political storm by defending his veto by accusing community colleges of falsifying their appropriations requests.
After an onslaught of criticism from legislators, community college advocates, community leaders and educators alike, Governor Perry responded to his critics in an opinion-editorial published in several papers earlier last week. In it, Governor Perry maintains that community colleges have "circumvented" the law and continue to lean on state resources to pay for health insurance for employees who are not employed by the state.
I, like the majority of my colleagues, am dismayed by the Governor's veto and I am shocked with his reasons for it. Having served on the Appropriations Committee when I was a member of the Texas House, I am very familiar with the process that encompasses funding for all aspects of the state's budget, including higher education. The legislative process surrounding the budget is not taken lightly by state lawmakers and input from other legislators, state agencies, professionals in their respected fields, community leaders and the general public are all taken into account.
During the past two legislative sessions, funding for community college health care was included in the state's budgets and both budgets were passed by the Texas Legislature and ultimately signed by the Governor. His signature on the previous session's budgets led me and my colleagues to believe that he supported this important expenditure of state funds. Not once, during the last session did the Governor express any concern that community colleges were falsifying their appropriation requests or that the state should not be responsible for the health insurance costs for community college employees, so why did he veto this funding after the last session ended? Moreover, how can Governor Perry make such an egregious and blanket statement about all community colleges and then consciously veto funding for only the second year of the state budget? If, as the
Governor alleges, community colleges are committing fraud, why reward them with authorizing state funds for any portion of their ill-gotten gain? Why pay for the first year of funding and veto the second year of the state budget?
Community colleges here in Senate District 18 and across Texas are an important component of our higher education system and provide a pathway to a college education for thousands of my constituents. The Governor's decision to cut this funding forces all of the state's community colleges to find alternatives for costs that they had already fixed into their budgets. Unfortunately, those alternatives may include tuition increases, staff lay-offs, an increase in property taxes or a combination of all of the above to make up for their loss.
The Governor's veto of these dollars runs counter to the legislature's efforts to lower local school property taxes by $14 billion dollars. I firmly believe that Texans deserve meaningful and lasting property tax relief. Unfortunately, the Governor's punitive veto may force our state's community colleges to shift the burden on to the local taxpayers by raising property taxes. This just doesn't make sense.
For my constituents here in Senate District 18, this one strike of the Governor's veto pen will result in the loss of over $6 million dollars in funding for the seven junior colleges that serve our communities. The taxpayers and students of Texas deserve real solutions, not unfounded accusations. Unfortunately, both taxpayers and college bound students will ultimately suffer the price for the actions of the Governor's ill-advised veto.
Glenn Hegar represents District 18 in the Texas Senate. He is a Republican who lives in Katy.