The following op-ed was written by Center for Public Policy Priorities Executive Director Ann Beeson, and it appeared in the Houston Chronicle on February 7, 2018:
Beeson: Stakes are high in fights over new Texas policies
Threats to critical state programs damage all citizens and create a climate of worry among those most at risk
One year ago, as President Donald Trump took office, the legislative session was getting underway here in Texas. Looking back, no one could have predicted the scale of the tumult in our state and country last year.
Federal policy proposals singled out refugees, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ Americans and women for ill treatment. Assaults on the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid put health care for millions of Texans at risk. An irresponsible tax giveaway added at least $1.4 trillion to our federal debt, making it highly likely that Congress will cut critical public services such as health care, nutrition and environmental protection.
Bad policies from Washington fueled equally bad policy proposals from state leaders in Austin. Though many terrible ideas were narrowly avoided, the passage of Senate Bill 4 pushes immigrants into the shadows and harms the Texas economy.
Then Hurricane Harvey brought unprecedented flooding and destruction to our state. The resilient Texas spirit was on full display after the storm, but low-income Texans continue to face especially daunting challenges in rebuilding their homes and their lives.
So what’s on the public policy horizon for Texas in 2018? There is no reliable crystal ball in today’s unruly climate. But this being Texas, and not my first rodeo, here are some of the policy battles likely in 2018:
Attacks on anti-poverty programs: To pay for tax giveaways for corporations and the super-rich, congressional leaders will try to cut critical programs that help families put food on the table, find affordable housing and get health care. Too many Texas families are one lay-off, accident or catastrophe away from financial disaster. Attacks on anti-poverty programs are imminent, and we need to guarantee that when people face hard times, they can access housing, food and medical care.
Starkly opposing views on immigration policy: As too many elected leaders continue to spout racist and xenophobic rhetoric, state business leaders are waking up and joining immigrants and their allies to call for common sense policies. Immigrants drive the Texas economy, and generations of newcomers helped to make this state what it is today. Documenting the harm from Senate Bill 4, fighting for DACA recipients and sharing the facts on immigrant economic contributions will be critical.
School finance reform versus school vouchers: With a new state-appointed commission, Texas has a chance to advance a long-overdue remodel of our public school finance system. Better funded schools mean smaller classes, more science labs and expanded teacher training. But zealots will push school vouchers that would siphon public money to pay for private tuition. Everyone concerned about the future of our children and workforce should be ready to fight for school finance reform and against vouchers.
More threats to health care: Texas starts 2018 as the state with the most uninsured residents (both by percentage and by number) of any state in the country. Ongoing federal threats to the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid could make those numbers even worse, and put health care at risk for the many Texans newly covered through the ACA and millions more in Medicaid. We must resist these federal threats while continuing to pressure state leaders to expand health care coverage, accept federal funding to expand Medicaid or come up with another plan to cover the uninsured.
While many of these battles are not new, this time I expect Texans to stand up, stronger than ever, to demand fact-based policies that help more Texans reach their full potential. While not all of Texas is woke yet, there’s a palpable change in the air.
Look around. More women, from both parties, are running for office than ever. There’s been a sharp increase in civic engagement across the state, especially at the local level.
Schoolteachers are registering to vote in larger numbers, taking their concern for the future of our children to the polls.
Immigrant Dreamers are refusing to give up on their futures here in America.
And businesses are ramping up their support for education, health care, and immigration policies they need to continue to thrive.
I don’t want to sugarcoat the challenges ahead of us. But as we saw after Hurricane Harvey, we can harness our collective power, compassion and resilience in 2018 to demand a more just and prosperous Texas.
Beeson is executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.