It’s a safe bet that Governor Perry’s “State of the State” address today will perpetuate the right-wing fantasy that Texas is close to perfect in every way. And that this fake halo is the direct result of ultra-conservative Republicans, led by the longest-serving Governor this state has ever had.
While it is true that many folks in Texas have weathered the national economic crisis better than folks in other areas, the lethal cuts to education, social services and health care and the inadequate environmental protection efforts by the Governor and his Republican allies have set us back in ways that we will continue to pay for at the local level for years to come. The Draconian state budget often means a greater burden on local governments.
As Texas Democrats, we have witnessed this mess up close and personal, while the rest of the country got a hint of our suffering during Perry’s embarrassing run for President. As Senator Kirk Watson says, we Texans love Texas, but we know it can be better. The Republican-controlled Legislature shows no sign of taking note of our problems, but any reality-checked “State of the State” reveals the work that must be done.
Under Perry’s bungling administration, Texas has seen public education funds wither. In 2011, Republicans slashed public school funding by $5.4 billion, resulting in teacher firings and overcrowded classrooms. Districts including AISD are suing the state for insufficient funding, but so far Republicans have shown no interest in restoring the education cuts — in spite of an increase in revenue and a growing Rainy Day Fund. They seem to think school vouchers will solve the problem.
Although Perry, David Dewhurst and Greg Abbott all claim there’s not a strong connection between money and student performance, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Texas currently has the fourth-highest illiteracy rate in the country, at 19 percent. Without good public schools, we will not be able to produce an educated workforce, and without educated workers, our booming economy will suffer. Instead of fully funding our schools, Perry and his pals are talking about cutting taxes!
The state of our state in health care is even worse. Perry has turned down Medicaid expansion and its accompanying $76 billion in federal dollars. Texas ranked dead last in the federal government’s latest report card (by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) on the delivery of health services. We rated “weak or very weak” in areas ranging from acute hospital care to home treatment of the chronically ill. We have more uninsured children than any other state and one of the highest teen pregnancy and repeat teen pregnancy rates, too.
The ongoing “war on women” has chipped away at women’s health care. Perry has cut funding to Planned Parenthood, passed one of the most intrusive pieces of legislation in the state’s history with the transvaginal ultrasound bill last session. Now there’s a proposed “fetal pain” bill designed to further prevent women’s already limited access to abortion. If they can figure out how to make contraceptives illegal, Texas Republicans may do that, too.
Perry and his 2011 allies passed one of the most restrictive Voter ID bills in the country — destined to prevent poor people and minorities from casting a vote. It was blocked by a federal court, but Perry then proceeded to purge the voting rolls of dead people who turned out to be alive. Voter suppression is alive and well in Texas, thanks to Rick Perry.
I’m sure the Governor’s “State of the State” will be filled with back-patting, self-congratulations and praise for our great state. Texas is a great place to live, but we need to acknowledge the problems that exist and, instead of making them worse, strive to make them better. How can we do this? Let’s turn Texas blue!
Travis County Democratic Party Chair