Over the years, I have been mostly amused – and occasionally annoyed – by the Texas chauvinists who strut around wearing the Lone Star on their shoulders, as if their Texanness has magically bestowed upon them some type of superiority over other, lessfortunate humans as well as the right to be obnoxiousatwill. I, too, am a Texan, nativeborn, but have mostly tried to maintain a moredetached view of what we should and shouldn’t be bragging about.
These days, it seems, most of that chauvinistic boasting comes from football fans and politicians, including the current occupant of the state’s highest office. To boost his reelection prospects, Gov. Rick Perry continues to brag about the ability of the Texas economy to weather (so far) the national recession in comparatively strong shape, downplaying, of course, the thousands of Texans who still don’t have jobs.
He was at it again this week, when his campaign posted a link on its webpage to a new Brookings Institution report showing that Texas’ major metropolitan areas were performing quite well, economically, compared to most other cities around the country. The posting then bragged about “record job creation, low taxes” and other “businessfriendly” steps that would help Perry and Texas “lead the nation out of recession.”
Even if I were to concede, which I don’t, that Perry deserves much credit for the current Texas economy, there are ominous warnings – all widely reported in the news media – that Texas’ state government and many school districts are in for a worsening financial storm. Teachers and other education professionals could be among those most adversely affected, and, in this case, policies promoted by Perry are clearly a major cause of the problem.
For starters, the Legislature is expected to face a budgetary shortfall next January projected (so far) at anywhere between $11 billion and $15 billion. Although the recession is partly to blame, a major cause of the problem are the minimal school property tax cuts that Perry convinced the Legislature to enact during his 2006 reelection campaign. Remember those? Or, were your savings so small, you forgot about them already?
Collectively, however, those cuts produced a huge, recurring hole in the state budget – about $9 billion every two years because the revised business tax and higher cigarette taxes that Perry promoted to replace them came up short. The governor who would “lead” the nation out of recession has ordered state agencies to trim budgets. Health care, education and other critical public services are on the line.
The financial plight of many school districts, meanwhile, continues to worsen. The governor and the Legislature forced property tax cuts upon them without adequately repaying them or helping them prepare for everincreasing enrollment. Now, many school officials are warning of costcutting steps such as larger class sizes and faculty and staff layoffs. With Texas already ranking an embarrassing 44th in perpupil spending on instruction, what kind of message does that send to employers seeking a 21st century workforce?
And, we can’t forget (much as we might wish we could) that other national embarrassment, the State Board of Education. Perry is a political ally of the rightwing faction that removed Thomas Jefferson from the world history curriculum, and he once appointed Don McLeroy, a leader of the effort to rewrite history, as the board chairman. The SBOE certainly is doing its part to transform Texas from bragging state to laughingstock.