As Austin mayor from 1997 to 2001, Kirk Watson knows a thing or two about our city. As our State Senator since 2006, he knows a lot about Central Texas and the state of our state.
From Senator Watson:
The folks in control of the Capitol talk a lot about Texas’ hot economy. And the fact that people are working and thriving here speaks very well of the workers and employers who are helping to fuel Texas’ prosperity.
But it’s a problem when politicians try to take credit for others’ success.
Worse still is when these so-called leaders cite the economy as they seek to undermine the very things that help Texans proceed down the path to prosperity.
Texas needs good schools, colleges and universities. We need reliable water supplies and transportation networks. We need efficient and effective hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. And we demand an open, honest budget that reflects our state’s real needs and the cost of meeting them.
In all of these areas, Texas can do much better than it’s been doing, and Texans deserve much better than they’ve been getting.
The legacy of the 2011 legislative session, as we now know, is one of mistakes. The first was the stunning revelation this month that two years ago, the Comptroller misjudged the state’s revenue collections by roughly $8.8 billion.
Had we known in 2011 what the Texas economy would truly produce, the legislature might have avoided its next great mistake: the effort by those in control to balance the budget on the backs of our state’s schools and its teachers. It’s unconscionable that more than half of Texas school districts are suing the state over a school finance system that’s inequitable for our people and inadequate for our needs and our economy.
A third error was one that those in control of the legislature have been perpetuating for more than a decade: the reliance on debt, diversions, deception and denial in the state budget. Years of tricks and gimmicks have created an honesty deficit in the state’s finances. Those were taken to new extremes in the current budget: roughly $5 billion that Texans paid the state to support specific priorities such as parks, clean air and hospital funding has been diverted to cover other needs.
Such actions have made it harder and harder for those in control to even acknowledge the challenges facing our state. Look no further than the rosy depictions of state education funding that have been demolished by fact checkers again and again.
Now, we’re hearing many of those who are responsible for so many of these issues bragging about an alleged budget surplus. Don’t believe it.
If your state isn’t paying its bills, you don’t have a surplus.
If your state ranks near the bottom in vital necessities like education funding and health care, you don’t have a surplus.
If most of your state’s school districts are suing you over an inadequate and inequitable school finance system, you don’t have a surplus.
And if there’s an honesty deficit in the way your state balances its books, you don’t have a surplus.
So this must not be the session where those in control double-down on past mistakes. Instead, it offers the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and start making the investments that Texas businesses need us to make.
Let’s reform state government with honest accounting and greater transparency. Let’s make clear the challenges that Texas faces, so that no one can deny them, and let’s start addressing those challenges in an open, accountable way that Texans can trust.
Let’s also find a permanent solution that fairly funds our schools and prepares our kids — our future workers and employers — for the challenges and opportunities they’ll face in the 21st century. And let’s do it by taking basic steps like fixing the Margins Tax and assuring that businesses and special interests pay their fair share for the state’s schools.
And let’s protect the middle class by restoring basic necessities that have been stripped away from women, children and the elderly, and by accepting the billions of dollars that the Obama administration has made available to help us keep our friends, family members and neighbors healthy.
Finally, let’s create an opportunity agenda for the middle class that expands early childhood education, slows the runaway growth of college tuition, promotes the clean energy we’ll need in the 21st century, supports small businesses as much as big corporations and makes other low-risk, high-reward investments that will help ensure our state’s continued prosperity.
Because the simple truth is that we all love Texas. We want Texas to enjoy success in this century just as it did in the past one. And we know that in all of these areas, Texas can do better.
No more excuses — it’s time for Texas to do better.