Last month, I voted for SB 16, the Senate version of what is commonly referred to as the sonogram bill. (A similar bill won approval from the Texas House of Representatives earlier this month.)
I voted for SB 16 because I believe that people should understand the gravity of their decisions. Unfortunately, there is no sonogram provision for the Texas budget process. No one is going to force lawmakers to visit people with special needs and say, "The services you need are being cut." No provision will compel politicians to inform high school students that TEXAS Grants (which their teachers have told them will be there for them) have been cut.
It would be an interesting conversation wouldn't it? What would you say? "Anything else was just politically unfeasible?" "It just wasn't a top priority?" "Sorry, but property tax relief is just too sacred?"
The nearest thing the budget process has to a sonogram provision is the Finance Committee hearings. For the last few weeks, I have sat in those hearings and listened to the testimony of parents with autistic children, carers for the elderly, people with disabilities and the representatives of schools and colleges. Some of those nights have been late. All of them have been troubling. Why? Because lawmakers are having to wrestle with the gravity of the decisions they have to make.
The truth is, if we make drastic cuts to vital services, it will not be because we are broke. It will be because of a lack of regard for life. We won't be out of money — we'll be out of ideas, out of compassion. It will be because we have forgotten our responsibilities to the most vulnerable. That's not morally acceptable to me. We need more than the sporadic success of "pro life" bills in Austin.
We need a pro-life budget — one that safeguards life.
I believe that budgets are moral documents because the link between life and state spending is real. According to Glenn Stassen, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, abortion rates have risen along with poverty rates and cuts to assistance programs. According to the research, many impoverished mothers are more inclined to seek an abortion when they feel that no means exist to help them take care of their child.
This research doesn't make the decision about whether or not to keep a baby any less grave. But as a lawmaker, I am chilled by the thought that there are mothers who are too scared to go through with a pregnancy because governments choose cuts over compassion.
We need a budget that encourages people to choose life — from conception to natural death. Texans need medication, hospital treatment, protective services, quality schooling, a stable home environment and a safe border. I believe their ability to individually afford these things should not be the deciding factor governing their delivery. President Ronald Reagan must have believed this, too: In 1986, he signed COBRA, a bill that (among other things) raised taxes and mandated hospitals provide emergency care to everyone. Times may be hard, and we have to protect the economy, but we cannot preach fiscal responsibility at the expense of moral responsibility. Life has a fiscal note.
As everyone knows, I am an advocate for the unborn — but also for the born. We need to be there for both in Texas. If we make drastic cuts to vital services, we are denying many vulnerable Texans the ability to live. Children did not create this budget hole, nor did those with disabilities, those who have lost their jobs or those with mental health issues. Therefore, they should not be thrown into the hole in order to plug it.
We need to provide help to the vulnerable because, as President Barack Obama has said, we are each other's keepers. Finally we need to produce a budget worthy of Texas' leadership within the Union — that steps up to the challenge and makes sacrifices for the next generation. The eyes of America are upon us. All the live-long day.
Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, represents Texas Senate District 27.
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