The State of Texas: Why we should worry
By State Rep. PETE GALLEGO, Alpine
Texans have every reason to be proud of their unique history, heritage and culture. Sam Houston. William B. Travis. Lorenzo de Zavala. Sam Rayburn. Lyndon Johnson. John Connally. But the leaders who got us here would not be so proud of the leadership we have now. The leaders of yesterday planned for and cared about tomorrow.
Our children are the Texans of tomorrow. Every parent knows that the single most important thing in our lives is our children. Every sacrifice we make, every decision we make, every action we take is done with our kids in mind. The goal is always to make sure that their future is bright – their opportunities are many.
Unfortunately, that goal does not seem to be reflected in the actions of our leadership. Like 46 other states, Texas faces a budget shortfall. Despite proclamations made by Governor Rick Perry that, “We don’t have budget deficits in Texas. We have a balanced budget amendment. We have a projected shortfall,” we now know that, in fact, Texas collected $4.3 billion less than “projected” and consequently has a budget deficit.
If you were to ask any family across the state what it means to be short on bills for the month, I don’t think they would toy with definitions – deficit, shortfall, insufficiency.
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs confirmed this in announcing the state’s Biennial Revenue Estimate for the 2012-13 biennium last week. The total budget shortfall, estimated conservatively at $27 billion, is the largest in Texas history and already represents more than 25% of the total discretionary budget lawmakers will have to work with this session. My own guess is that the deficit will, in the end, represent over 30% of the state’s general revenue spending.
Now, switch back to parent mode. Every parent knows that the education of their children is a priority. After all, a kid’s future these days hinges on his or her education. But what would you cut if your family’s income suddenly dropped by 25%-30%? Would you prioritize yourself or your children? Would you downsize your own expenses so that your son or daughter could continue to go to school?
The first salvo in the budget battle came from Comptroller Combs, who authored a study entitled Connecting the Dots: School Spending and Student Progress. By law, classes in the lower grades are limited in size to 22 students per everyone teacher. In her study, the Comptroller finds that larger class sizes would save money. (Did we really need a study to tell us that?) Some have estimated that implementing the Comptroller’s recommendation would mean 12,000 fewer teaching jobs across the state.
Laying off 12,000 teachers across Texas means 12,000 classrooms shut down. That means 264,000 kids shuffled off into bigger classes. However, that was only the first salvo. The next salvo came yesterday – the proposed state budget filed last night makes drastic cuts in education. For example, do you know any parent who would support getting rid of pre-K program across the state? Really? We pick on the little kids now?
Every dollar cut from a program that provides direct services to kids means that some kid may not graduate from high school, or may not attend college (the proposed budget also gets rid of college financial aid for new students), or may not even get a hot meal while at school. Is this how we treat the future of Texas? I’ve never met a candidate for the Legislature, Democrat or Republican, who didn’t talk about the importance of education. Too bad they don’t all seem to care as much about children after the election.
Governor Perry’s inaugural dance featured the slogan “Texas, Where Opportunities Loom Large.” Not for long. Not for all. Not for kids. Texas faces a huge deficit. And, the proposed solution is one no Texan can be proud of. On the contrary, every parent and grandparent should be appalled.
Republicans have held every statewide office in Texas for years. They’ve controlled the Texas House since 2003.
We must demand truth and accountability in the budgeting process. We have to eliminate the smoke and mirrors that has hidden Republican’s fiscal mismanagement.
In light of the Biennial Revenue Estimate, we must be reminded that, even when our legislative chambers are heavily controlled by one party that argues that Texas doesn’t have “budget deficits” – they still happen. Even in our great state. The question is: who will get thrown overboard first?
Story filed under: West Texas Talk