Acknowledging the obvious, state Sen. Robert Nichols told the Austin American-Statesman, “We can delay the construction of a road or bridge a year or two, but kids have to go to school every day.”
But as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Nichols’ first priority is roads, not schools. And, that is why he is sponsoring legislation, which may win Senate approval next week, to dedicate a big chunk of revenue from the state’s sales tax on cars and trucks to highway construction and maintenance. At present, all of that money – about $4 billion a year and growing – is available for spending on education and other needs.
Within a few years, Nichols’ proposal would help the state start reducing a large backlog of needed transportation projects, but it also would significantly reduce the amount of tax revenue – by billions of dollars each budget cycle — available for spending on education and other needs.
I appreciate good roads and highways as much as most drivers. But why should Nichols’ plan be put on the fast track while public schools – whose needs are no less critical than highways – are still waiting in line? And, a separate decision to make tax cuts the top budget priority, even ahead of highways, puts even more funding off limits before even considering what is needed for public education.
Almost everybody, from the new governor on down, says they want to improve education, and a state judge has declared the school finance system inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional. But instead of addressing that ruling, the state is appealing that decision, while available revenue that could be used to start building a reliable school funding system for all of Texas’ school children is being committed to other causes.
Kids are still going to school every day, many in overcrowded, under-funded classrooms.
“We have got to deal with the major problems of this state before we commit to tax cuts,” Sen. Kevin Eltife of Tyler said in a recent interview with The Texas Tribune.
But, so far, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s demand for tax cuts — $4.6 billion worth in a Senate proposal – is mostly drowning everyone else out. Patrick also is backing Nichols’ highway funding plan.
“At the end of the day, the Texas economy stays strong if people have more money in their pocket, if businesses have more money to create jobs,” Patrick said.
But what kind of jobs will they be? The quality of those jobs and the future of our economy will depend on the state’s investment in public education, not tax cuts.