The single biggest issue in this November’s election that will have an impact on Texas’ future is funding for public education, and many Republican candidates, including those running for the state’s top offices, are trying to get away with murder on this subject.
Intentionally or not, Texas Monthly blogger Erica Grieder now is aiding and abetting some of the biggest offenders, and I am sure she isn’t the only one.
By way of background, if you need it, the Republican legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets in 2011, following Comptroller Susan Combs’ revenue forecast, which under-estimated available tax revenue by several billion dollars and created a fiscal “crisis” that really wasn’t there.
Because of the bad revenue estimate, the education cuts were “technically unavoidable,” Grieder writes in a posting this week on Burkablog. In truth and even accounting for Combs’ poor or politically motivated math, the Legislature had several billion dollars available in the Rainy Day Fund in 2011, and the legislative majority could have spent some of that money to at least minimize the school cuts. What was lacking was the political will to do the right thing, fed by a short-sighted political ideology that still dominates the state GOP.
Grieder gives Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for comptroller, credit for calling out his Republican opponent, Glenn Hegar, not only for voting for the budget cuts in 2011 but also for bragging about his vote now. Can you imagine what kind of fiscal “crisis” Hegar could conjure up as comptroller in order to cripple public schools to the delight of his Tea Party supporters?
But Grieder questions why Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor who filibustered against the school budget cuts, is challenging Republican nominee Greg Abbott on the school funding issue. After all, she writes, Abbott isn’t a legislator and “didn’t have a thing to do” with the cuts.
She forgets, however, that as attorney general Abbott has defended the cuts in court. He also will appeal a state district judge’s ruling that the entire school finance system, including the cuts, is inadequate and unconstitutional. Abbott’s actions as attorney general are a strong indicator that public schools will not be a top priority should he be elected governor, and Davis should continue challenging him on that point.
Grieder also questions how Davis would provide more funding for education, despite the fact that even Combs’ office is now acknowledging that state tax revenue is increasing significantly because of a strong economy.
And, finally, Grieder partially buys into Republican lieutenant governor nominee Dan Patrick’s claim that he “led the charge” to restore most of the education funding in 2013, despite the fact his claim has been branded a “Pants on Fire” lie by the Austin American-Statesman’s PolitiFact Texas. That’s because Patrick voted against the entire state budget, including all education funding, in 2013. The charge to restore most of the funding was led by Davis and Patrick’s Democratic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte, who also had voted against the cuts two years earlier, while Patrick was voting for them.
The blogger says “Pants on Fire” may be a little harsh because former Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams has defended Patrick’s work on the budget. She misses the point, though, that Williams, who last year sharply criticized Patrick for voting against the budget, is defending Patrick now because Williams is now a government affairs specialist for the Texas A&M University System and is trying to mend fences with someone who may be – ugh – the next lieutenant governor.
In fundraising emails to supporters, Patrick has all but promised additional cuts in education funding if he is elected to the higher office.
Nevertheless, Grieder claims, “Patrick’s concern for public education is sincere.”
Yeah. About as sincere as Rick Perry’s smile the last time the governor shook hands with President Obama.