Months ago, at the beginning of his campaign for governor, Greg Abbott said that average Texans “know better how to spend your (tax) money than do bureaucrats in Austin or Washington.” Abbott won the governor’s race, but the comment, recently repeated in The Dallas Morning News, was political make-believe.
Government budgets in Austin and Washington are set by elected officials, not unelected bureaucrats, and the average Texas taxpayer knows next to nothing about funding public programs and services. Countless Texans, for example, still think the lottery should provide all the funding that public schools need, when, in truth, all the proceeds the state realizes from the lottery account for less than a nickel of every public education dollar.
Abbott, supposedly, was elected governor to lead Texas to a successful future, not follow the dreams of ideologues who would rather not pay taxes at all, or certainly not enough to keep the state’s highways moving, its schools functioning and its economy improving. So far, though, Abbott’s post-election policy and budgetary pronouncements have been influenced more by ideology – and so-called business “leaders” who should know better — than the realities of a rapidly growing, 21st century, urban state.
The still-undefined tax cuts that the governor-elect is promoting aren’t going to unclog highways or adequately fund a school finance system that, as a state judge recently determined, is woefully and unfairly unfunded to the point of being unconstitutional. Depending on the revenue estimate still to come from the new state comptroller, the Legislature will have as much as $10 billion in surplus revenue to spend next session on critical state needs, such as education, without raising anyone’s taxes or busting a constitutional spending cap. And, thanks to a strong economy, that doesn’t include billions of extra dollars in the Rainy Day Fund.
Campaigning for governor, Abbott vowed to make Texas “number one” in public education, but so far he has offered little that would accomplish that goal. Because of deep state budget cuts in 2011 that were only partially restored in 2013, public schools now have about $460 less to spend per student than they had four years ago, while enrollment grows by about 80,000 kids per year.
Abbott so far has offered very few education initiatives, and what he has offered would be of very limited scope, including a selective prekindergarten program that wouldn’t even restore all the pre-K funding cut four years ago.
The governor-elect has an opportunity – and the means – to insist that the Legislature join him in moving Texas forward, but that will require different priorities than Abbott so far is signaling.