Ever since COVID-19 hit Texas in March, our caucus has repeatedly called for data-driven policies informed by medical experts, and for a prioritization of the safety of all Texans over politics. By contrast, Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans have chosen an entirely different path — willfully ignoring the science, playing political games and refusing to lead.
As our state becomes the fourth in America to reach the grim milestone of 10,000 deaths, we are confronted with the consequences of six months of bad choices. Make no mistake — our COVID numbers and the related impacts were not an inevitability. States headed up by decisive, informed leaders are faring far better than we are. Unless we take action, Texans will continue to struggle.
We are confronted with two simple questions: what are the biggest problems we are facing at this moment, and how can we solve them?
Problem #1: Vital COVID statistics that should be used to drive decision-making are inconsistent and unreliable.
From the very beginning, Texas’ reporting and analyzing of COVID data has been questionable. Whether it was the state’s conflation of viral and antibody tests, or the recent, dramatic spike in positivity rates that don’t match hospitalization numbers, it’s been difficult to trust the state’s numbers as providing an accurate picture. These discrepancies are compounded by the state’s periodic changes in how data is reported, such as the recent shift to death certificates instead of county reports for COVID fatalities, making it difficult to track changes over time.
Data issues have real-world consequences. How can we create good pandemic policy if we don’t know the current pandemic situation? How can we feel comfortable sending our kids back to school if we have no idea what the actual positivity rate is? How can we make thoughtful decisions about re-openings and closings if we can’t reliably track the key metrics the governor originally stated should determine those decisions?
Right now, Gov. Abbott is the only person with oversight on how Texas agencies are collecting, analyzing and distributing COVID data. This is a major concern. The Texas Legislature needs to be allowed to fulfill its responsibilities by keeping the executive branch accountable as we manage this crisis.
Gov. Abbott should instruct the State Preservation Board to open the Capitol in Austin so the Legislature can begin holding safe, socially distant hearings.
Gov. Abbott should instruct the State Preservation Board to open the Capitol in Austin so the Legislature can begin holding safe, socially distant hearings. Legislators must be allowed to call agencies in to better understand the data issues and discrepancies. Texans deserve more transparency around the governor’s and the agencies’ processes, not less.
Problem #2: The COVID pandemic is putting a massive strain on Texas’ budget, depressing forecasted revenue and driving us to a recession.
In late July, the State Comptroller released his prediction of a $4.6 billion revenue shortfall — a dramatic drop from the originally expected multi-billion dollar surplus. Agencies delivering essential services such as health care and unemployment assistance face potential cuts going into next year, which is particularly troubling in a time when we need those services most. The latest actions from the federal government have not provided as much help as was hoped. The promise of extra unemployment benefits carried the caveat that the state must chip in a quarter of the cost, and the U.S. Senate has just adjourned for the rest of summer without agreeing on a new coronavirus relief plan.
Our current economic situation is devastating, especially for workers and families without a job. But there are solutions available to us. Now is not the time to just “tighten our belts.” Now is the time for the governor to expand Medicaid and immediately infuse billions of federal dollars into our economy. Not only would Medicaid expansion yield a much-needed economic boost, it would also help cover the nearly 30% of Texans under 65 that are now uninsured.
Now is the time for the governor to expand Medicaid and immediately infuse billions of federal dollars into our economy.
In the longer term, Texas House Democrats are committed to closing special interest tax loopholes next Session. By updating state tax policy to ensure everyone pays their fair share, we can increase our state revenue without increasing financial burdens on individual Texas families.
Our state is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of this pandemic. So many of today’s issues have roots in Gov. Abbott months-long track record of poor decisions. Though it’s frustrating, we must take action and pursue the solutions outlined above — and the many more our caucus Members have advocated for — so we may win the war against COVID-19 and restore confidence and competence in our state government.