by State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa
Texas is in the red. A $27 billion shortfall is not a figure we can reduce by tightening our belts. There is a lot of rhetoric surrounding the budget. During campaign season, we heard cries to lower state spending, lower taxes and shrink the role of government. Now, the numbers are out, and there is a thunder of public outcry rolling across the state of Texas.
We can't cut our way out of this deficit without negatively affecting our economic recovery and thousands of Texans. We need a responsible, balanced approach to the budget. Reduce spending, demand efficiency, eliminate duplication. We need to tap the Rainy Day Fund, consider revenue sources, and revisit the structural deficit created when the legislature reduced property tax revenue for our schools.
Cuts in spending don't eliminate necessity; it increases local spending and taxation. Local governments, lacking the revenue raising tools of the state, are forced to raise property taxes to fund and support programs like schools and healthcare. State budget cuts simple pass the buck to already-strapped Texas families and local governments.
Texas already provides the bare minimum - we rank, per Capita, 46th in tax revenue, 47th in expenditures - leaving local governments to pick up the tab. Our roads, schools and institutions of higher learning, hospitals, research centers - all things necessary to global economic competitiveness - depend on state funding.
Our population is growing, expanding at three times the rate of our state tax base. We are choosing not to raise revenues for future investments, even though investing in education, roads, and infrastructure yields great economic returns and social benefits - jobs, higher wages, and innovation.
Texas will always be number one for me. Not because we execute more prisoners, insure fewer children, and emit more toxic chemicals than any other state. Certainly not because we have the least amount of people over 25 with a high school diploma, rank last in per capita spending on mental health, and have the largest population of uninsured non-elderly women. This is not my vision of Texas. We can do better.
Our financial situation is sobering - a $27 billion shortfall is dead serious. It's time for action, not reaction. The time for defending the status quo has passed. Texas should create jobs, not lose 800,000. Texas should educate, not lay off teachers or weaken our Pre-K programs. We should protect the most vulnerable, not close hundreds of nursing homes.
This is unacceptable. We need a working budget that is easy on Texas taxpayers and incorporates the services we need to be number one. Let's work together this legislative session to find solutions to our economic afflictions, for a better future. For a better Texas.
Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, a Vietnam veteran, has spent over 20 years in the legislature. He has participated in the budget writing process of the last ten biennia, growing his expertise and involvement through his appointment as Vice Chair to the Senate Committee on Finance for the second time in a row and his membership in the Legislative Budget Board.