Day: <span>January 13, 2015</span>

$18 billion is a lot of money, but…


Now we know, officially, following the comptroller’s revenue estimate, that the Legislature will have $18 billion in new money to spend on public needs during this session. Wow, that’s a lot of money, you might say, more than enough to improve school funding, particularly since both the incoming governor and lieutenant governor are talking about putting priorities on education.

Yes, $18 billion is a lot of money, enough for the Legislature to provide a significant increase for education funding without raising anyone’s taxes. But getting a decent share of it for public schools, health care and other critical public needs will remain a tough fight, given the tea party’s tightened hold on the state Capitol.

For starters, ultra-conservatives may insist that the Legislature keep about one-third, maybe as much as $8 billion, of the extra money in the bank to comply with a constitutional spending cap that has become a political rallying standard for legislators intent on shrinking state government rather than adequately funding public services.

Further, despite their talk about education, both Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick – backed by such influential groups as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Association of Business — have made it clear they want to use a big chunk of what’s left of the $18 billion to lower business and property taxes.

Throw in demands for improving highway funding and increasing appropriations for higher education and other programs, and the political realities of the revenue picture worsen even more. Remember, the legislative majority cut $5.4 billion from public education in 2011 and restored only about $3.4 billion two years ago. It will require $2 billion to finish restoring the school money cut in 2011 and additional billions to meet the growing needs of an enrollment increasing by 80,000 to 85,000 students per year.

As reported by the Austin American-Statesman, Patrick said the comptroller’s revenue estimate was enough “to secure our border, provide property and business tax relief while focusing on education and infrastructure.”

That comment reinforces Patrick’s priorities of border security and tax cuts. Based on his legislative record and his 2014 election campaign, Patrick’s primary interest in education is not adequate and fair funding for public schools but diverting tax dollars from public schools for vouchers and other unproven privatization schemes.

The new comptroller, Glenn Hegar, also predicted the state’s Rainy Day Fund will swell to $11.1 billion by August 2017, but tea party legislators will likely fight any effort to tap into that savings account for public education.

Public education advocates are prepared to fight to squeeze every possible dollar for Texas neighborhood schools and school children, and you can help. Contact your legislators and make them know, in no uncertain terms, how important your public schools are to you and demand adequate funding. If you don’t know who your state senator or state representative is, click on the link below to learn who they are and how to contact them.

We all know $18 billion is a lot of money, and it offers an opportunity for education that shouldn’t be wasted.