What is a state without its people?
AUSTIN — There were many positives to be found within Gov. Rick Perry's message during today's State of the State Address, and I agree that the economic outlook for Texas is as strong as ever. For example, I agree that Texas should invest in the infrastructure needs of a state that attracts thousands of new residents each month. To this, the governor endorsed a one-time $3.7 billion allocation from the Rainy Day Fund for investment in the state's transportation and water systems. And while we all can celebrate a robust business climate, I contend that more emphasis should be directed toward the millions who work, attend schools and live in the Lone Star State; in other words, the people. It would be money well spent on Texas' future.
There are however, a few topics urgent to the needs of Texans where I would differ with the directions taken by the governor. His address expressed his desire to provide $1.8 billion in tax relief to Texans, saying that Texas should not take in more in tax dollars than it needs to operate. The governor also called for an end to fund diversions, saying that those dedicated funds should be used for the purposes for which they were collected. On this point of diversions, I concur.
But before we initiate another system of tax rebates, I think it imperative to address the situation we created the last time we put tax relief before the needs of our children to be provided with a quality education. That was back in 2005-2006, when state leaders forged forward with a revised business franchise tax that has never brought in the levels of revenue promised; money that would help to adequately fund public schools. We call that the structural deficit and in the three legislative sessions since the margins taxes' creation and property tax reduction, we have stared into the funding abyss and acted as though it didn't exist.
This leads us to what happened last session. Faced with a budgetary shortfall in excess of $21 billion, we as a legislative body refused all options that would raise state revenues and instead, slashed more than $4 billion in funding for public schools. This proved to be the tipping point for school districts all over Texas and hundreds of them joined forces to protest levels of funding cuts that forced districts to close campuses, layoff teachers and expand class sizes. That issue is awaiting resolution in state district court. But according to today's speech, we take in more money than we need: hmmm.
And as if funding for public schools were not already under siege, support today was also pledged to the expansion of charter schools and for the funding of scholarships that parents could use to explore educational options outside the public school system. What some call scholarships or school choice, many of us call vouchers. It's a funding diversion that should end before it begins.
Today, the governor also dug his boot heels in on his stance of refusing Medicaid expansion, a key component of the Affordable Care Act. And while applause was heard in the audience, it likely did not come from the hands of those who run hospitals in Texas. Not only would uninsured adult Texans be left without coverage, but hospitals would also be denied resources that would address millions spent annually on indigent care. Lost funding opportunities - a near 10:1 match that totals in the billions - would also ripple through the Texas economy. Those tax dollars collected from Texans will be sent to other states. In addition, the business and job growth that would accompany the Medicaid expansion in a state with the highest number of uninsured - some 5 million - would also fail to materialize. It begs a question. If there were no people, would there be jobs?