Brakeyshia Samms, State Policy Fellow
Am I one of the few millennials interested in the Texas budget?

Many of my peers don’t appreciate how the state’s investment decisions will determine the future Texas that we all inherit. With pre-legislative session budget hearings just beginning, now is the time for us to get involved and push for funding for the things we need.

Underfunding today can mean underperforming tomorrow. When the Texas Legislature makes it more expensive for students to attend college, our state suffers in the long run. Since the Legislature cut financial aid programs by 15 percent in 2011, it has been unwilling to restore adequate funding. As a result we are now forced to spend more time earning hourly wages instead of studying, doing what we can to cover rising tuition costs.

Research shows that a college-educated workforce creates a more economically vibrant community. From higher personal incomes to less reliance on public assistance to lower unemployment rates and lower crime rates, education will help deliver the Texas we all want.

This is more than abstract budget policy for me; my significant student loan debt makes this personal. While I have no regrets with the way I financed my college education, I know that my debt would be much smaller were it not for state cuts to higher education funding. Looking back, I wish I had been more vocal about the budget process sooner.

Currently, one out of every three millennials (those born between 1980 and 1999) is uninsured in Texas. So when the Texas Legislature decided not to expand Medicaid to more people in need, it gutted access to affordable health care and hindered the ability for uninsured millennials to receive preventive care. This legislative inaction will also result in a loss of over 6 billion federal dollars for Texas every year. Not only would such funding help cover health care costs, it would also create more jobs in the health care sector — creating a prime career opportunity for millennials.

We have all read about millennials struggling to find jobs. The Texas Workforce Commission provides workforce development services to job seekers throughout the state, but the agency is chronically underfunded. For example, the commission wants to create new programs that involve on-the-job training for high-demand and highly skilled occupations. Without sufficient funding, however, programs like that can’t help millennials find jobs and gain independence.

Whether you watch this fall’s budget hearings online or come in person, it’s crucial that millennials share their opinions as representatives of state agencies and universities propose their budget requests. Let’s not be silent or intimidated; the Capitol is for the people to come and share their thoughts.

And millennials, let’s use our social media skills for something useful. If you are unable to attend, use and follow the Twitter hashtags #txlege or #txbudget to stay informed. Contact your state representative or state senator, and tell them about your budget priorities.

Despite the trend stories, I know that many millennials are politically engaged. We are interested in reducing the cost of higher education, making health care more affordable and accessible, creating fair-wage jobs, and lowering the unemployment rate.

So let’s pick issues that matter to us and learn how the state budget affects us. Tweet about it. Blog about it. Attend a hearing. Whatever you do, speak up

This was published earlier in the Austin American-Statesman on September 2nd, 2014.

At the Center for Public Policy Priorities, we believe in a Texas that offers everyone the chance to compete and succeed in life. We envision a Texas where everyone is healthy, well-educated, and financially secure. We want the best Texas - a proud state that sets the bar nationally by expanding opportunity for all. CPPP is an independent public policy organization that uses data and analysis to advocate for solutions that enable Texans of all backgrounds to reach their full potential. We dare Texas to be the best state for hard-working people and their families.

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