Wrong-headed politics blocking full education funding
The reason that many legislators don’t want to spend any money from the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund on public schools is because they want to hoard your tax dollars. This would enable them to go back home and brag to a small – but loud – number of constituents that they had “saved” the fund.
These constituents refuse to believe that a growing state like Texas requires a wise investment of tax dollars in critical programs, services and infrastructure. They also claim our public schools are fat with waste, despite $5.4 billion in budget cuts two years ago, and would love to divert tax dollars to private schools. And, unfortunately, they are influential in many Republican primary races.
But the “official” reason among the legislative leadership for not spending Rainy Day dollars to help restore all the education funding is that the savings account shouldn’t be used on “recurring” expenses. This is a false argument, but so far it and the political hoarder mentality have succeeded in blocking any attempt to dip into the Rainy Day Fund for schools. It also, so far, has blocked efforts to spend Rainy Day money on future water projects because of pushback from education advocates.
With the regular legislative session nearing an end, it is time for the predictable threats of a special session from the governor, and Gov. Perry is right on schedule, threatening to call lawmakers back into a special session this summer if they don’t approve a water funding plan. Unfortunately, he has said nothing about attaching a similar priority to education.
Legislators are on track to restore part of the $5.4 billion cut from schools in 2011, but without dipping into the Rainy Day Fund they could be as much as $2 billion or more short of restoring the entire amount.
Using Rainy Day money to help fill the entire $5.4 billion hole would not be a “recurring” expense. It would be a one-time repair. But failure to fill the entire hole would give school districts a “recurring” budgetary shortfall, created when the Legislature refused to fund enrollment growth for the past two years, or about 170,000 children.
In truth, the constitutional amendment that created the Rainy Day Fund and was approved by Texas voters in 1988 includes no prohibition against spending the savings account on recurring needs. And, the Legislature – under both Republican and Democratic control – has spent Rainy Day savings over the years on a number of recurring expenses, including public education, retired teacher health care, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Child Protective Services.
In 2003, the Republican-dominated Legislature even spent Rainy Day money to create the Texas Enterprise Fund and in 2005 to fund the Emerging Technology Fund. Gov. Perry has used both those funds to dole out millions of tax dollars to private businesses. The funds have been recurring expenses, and, in the minds of many, recurring boondoggles.
Perry claims they have been important economic development tools. But the biggest, most effective economic development tools the state has are its public schools.
The bottom line is there is more than enough money in the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to begin paying for water projects AND restore cuts to public schools AND have money left over for future emergencies.
The math is simple. The politics are not.