Don’t be misled by exaggerated hand-wringing and political pandering, folks. The Legislature has the money to restore the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago – and then some. The only thing lacking is the political will to do the right thing, and when the will is weak, politicians will come up with excuses.
According to Comptroller Susan Combs’ official revenue estimate for the legislative session that begins today, general revenue tax collections for the current budget cycle were $8.8 billion more than she projected when the cuts were imposed in 2011. Additionally, she projected the Rainy Day Fund to swell to $11.8 billion by the end of the upcoming budget period.
Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative leadership should be making plans now to share that extra wealth with the people who made it possible – the taxpayers of Texas. It is our money, and it is more than enough to restore the education cuts, additional cuts made to health care programs and close a hole in the Medicaid budget. There even would be enough to set aside part of the Rainy Day fund as an endowment toward future water needs, as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has proposed, and still save some money for a future fiscal emergency.
But, instead, we continue to hear excuses, particularly for treating the Rainy Day Fund as if it were an untouchable, sacred political cow rather than a valid revenue option intended to help Texas deal with short-term financial emergencies. Only recently, House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts still was suggesting the legislative majority wasn’t prepared to spend Rainy Day money to repair the public education budget.
“There’s not the will (among legislators) to spend Rainy Day funds for recurring expenses,” he told The Dallas Morning News.
Replacing money slashed from the public schools two years ago, however, is not a “recurring expense.” It is damage repair, this is an emergency and the money – the taxpayers’ money – is there.
Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston, who voted against the education cuts last session, offered some sound advice in the same newspaper article for parents and other taxpayers who are sick and tired of the political game-playing by the legislative majority. Parents and others who value the public schools “need to be screaming and hollering and emailing us, starting on Jan. 8 and keeping it up to the end of the session,” he said.
Turner is right, folks. Get in their face and stay there.