Day: <span>December 5, 2023</span>

Closing the door on a wasted year in Austin

After one regular session, four special sessions and a record $33 billion budget surplus with which to spend on under-funded state needs such as public education and health care, this year has produced one of the biggest legislative failures in recent memory. And without question, practically all the blame belongs to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who put their political lust for private school vouchers, property tax relief and the con game they call “border security” above all else—including school children, schoolteachers and millions of families struggling without health insurance or adequate housing or nutrition.

One of the few bright spots of the past 12 months was the House’s umpteenth defeat of vouchers, to which Abbott held a much-needed increase in public school funding hostage all year long. TSTA and other members of the public education community held firm against vouchers, despite the loss of potential funding increases, because we knew the diversion of tax money to private and religious schools would soon erode – in ballooning fashion – even more money, billions of dollars a year, from our under-funded public education system.

Once it was clear that Abbott wasn’t going to get vouchers – despite all his threats and promises – he still refused to do the right thing for five million public school students and their teachers. That would have been to insist the Legislature appropriate some of the billions of surplus dollars that were still available to the public education budget.

Instead, hundreds of school districts and thousands of school employees will continue to struggle with their budgets. The basic per-student funding allotment for school districts, last increased in 2019, will remain unchanged, and Texas, which already spends more than $4,000 less per student in average daily attendance than the national average, will fall farther behind. So will teachers, whose salaries already trail the national average by more than $7,700.

Meanwhile, if someone can figure out how to outmaneuver the bogus lawsuits brought by election-deniers trying to block the results of the November constitutional amendments election, Texas homeowners will share in about $18 billion of property tax relief, at least for a few years before rising property values begin to erode their tax cuts. While this will present even more budgetary issues for school districts, millions of Texas residents who rent their homes, including many with school children, will see little, if any, relief.

Also, depending on the same bogus lawsuits, thousands of retired school employees, many struggling to purchase everyday necessities, will begin to see modest increases in their pensions — in January, we hope. It will be the first cost-of-living adjustment for any educator who retired after Sept. 1, 2004. That’s a cause for celebration, but the fact that it took so long to get is a sad reflection on the priorities of this state’s current leadership.

Many more billions of dollars will be spent on so-called “border security,” which will do a lot more to quench the political thirst of Abbott and his allies than it will to stem the numbers of immigrants coming over the southern border. Abbott and Patrick would have you believe that every other one of the migrants is a terrorist or drug dealer. In truth, the vast majority are fleeing political oppression or violence in their home countries or simply seeking a better life here. But to Abbott and his political cronies, they are political pawns.

Abbott plus his legislative allies equal one wasted year.

Clay Robison