The House will debate the state budget this week. Before we begin discussing amendments and our core priorities, it’s important to remember that some of the most important decisions about our budget were made years and years ago.
We must invest more money in our local schools, so our students and teachers have a fair shot at success. Yet the way previous Legislatures have decided to fund schools has left us in a hole we’ve never really dug ourselves out from. The last major change to our school finance system was in 2006, when the Legislature decided to cut property taxes and create a “franchise tax” that underperformed from the beginning, and has now been cut so much it doesn’t generate the money our schools and students need.
Our priority is to protect Texas children. Yet serious policy reforms and critical funding needs for our foster care system we needed 10 years ago were kicked down the road, until we reached the crisis we are at today. Rather than invest in fixes we knew had to be made, the Legislature cut taxes, eliminated services, and horded away billions in the Economic Stabilization Fund. The budget that will come to the floor this week has a number of positive items in it – but it also underfunds CPS reform, Medicaid rates for acute therapy services, and countless other programs for Texas kids in need — all while leaving billions of dollars untouched in our state savings account.
When oil and gas revenues came in low last year, it created a revenue shortfall because the Legislature has not sufficiently diversified its revenue sources. The investment in transportation improvements we made in 2013 — the one Texas voters approved in a constitutional amendment election — will be great for our highways. But Texans have yet to see the same commitment from our Legislature.
As the week unfolds, Texas House Democrats will offer amendments to improve our budget to better protect Texas children and make sure every Texan has a fair shot at success. But if we really want to change how we invest in the future of our great state, we’ll need to look beyond the budget and start fixing the way we do business across the board.