With four days left in the Texas legislative session, I recall my fervent hope back in January – that lawmakers would put aside their differences and focus on what all Texans believe in. We all want Texas to be the best state for hard-working people and their families. We all want a future for our children and grandchildren that gives every Texan the chance to compete and succeed.
Our state began 2015 with woefully underfunded schools, more than 1 million U.S. citizen adults without health insurance and inexcusable tax giveaways that let big businesses avoid paying their fair share. So there was much work to be done.
But instead of tackling these top priorities for Texas, the high profile debates in the Capitol focused on putting guns on people’s waists and in classrooms, finding new ways to discriminate against immigrants and same-sex couples, and cutting taxes to further reduce the state’s ability to invest. Budget discussions seemed largely based on a locker room-style contest about who could invest less in our state’s future, diverting funding streams and creating spending caps.
There have been some rays of hope amid all the cloudy judgment. I am deeply grateful to the committed leaders and partners who helped fight for these wins, including:
- HB 4, which will take a first step toward enhancing Texas Pre-K
- HB 903, which will wisely invest a portion of the Rainy Day Fund so it grows faster
- SB 1507 and HB 1908, which will improve services for Texans with mental illness
- SB 1750 and SB 947, which will get college students more off-campus job experience; and
- SB 481, which starts to address surprise medical billing
And it’s good to see that political leaders have reached consensus on a budget and tax plan, though the majority of Texans will see little benefit. The homestead exemption part of the $3.8 billion deal will mean only about $126 in annual tax savings for an average homeowner. That does little to help everyday Texans while undermining the public services we all need.
Even if oil prices rebound, lawmakers who come back to the Capitol in 2017 will find almost $4 billion less to work with – and that’s before taking into account the pending school finance lawsuit. Earlier this month Comptroller Hegar warned state leaders that prioritizing tax cuts over desperately needed investments in infrastructure is shortsighted and could harm the state’s credit rating.
Like many, I’m looking forward to coming up for air at the end of the legislative session. But there won’t be much down time here at CPPP. We’re already busy analyzing the bills that have passed to better understand their implications. And we’ll continue to push for new policies at the state and local levels that expand opportunity and enable Texans of all backgrounds to reach their full potential.
The last five months have been largely about certain lawmakers playing politics with the future of Texas –a dangerous game that we’ll all lose. Now let’s dust ourselves off and get to work for a Texas that gives everyone a fair chance. If we didn’t have an ambitious vision, it wouldn’t be worth fighting for.