Given our state’s financial situation, all agree on one conclusion: The state budget being written today must spend less. However, when making painful budget cuts, we must set clear priorities and seek to minimize harm.
We should prioritize (1) protecting quality education, (2) keeping nursing homes open and (3) requiring all big corporations to pay their fair share.
The proposed Republican budget balances the 2012-13 budget by cuts alone. They do not spend a single dime from the Rainy Day Fund in 2012 and 2013. And their budget assumes no new revenue — not even from the reduction of tax loopholes enjoyed by out of state big corporations.
Their approach is a double hit to our economy. The first hit lands now during our fragile recovery. The Legislative Budget Board — an independent agency of the Legislature — estimates the proposed budget will have the effect of raising unemployment and causing 335,000 fewer private and public sector jobs by 2013. The second and more devastating hit to jobs comes when our children are older. Because this budget cuts education by approximately 20 percent, fewer students will graduate from high school and fewer will afford college. At the highest levels of education, doors will be closing. Our medical schools have reported they will admit fewer students in their graduate and residency programs. How will we grow the quality jobs of the future if we fail to educate those who aspire to be doctors, educators, entrepreneurs and other creative professionals?
The Legislature should take these three critical steps to balance the budget:
First, cut ineffective programs that are distant to serving young children and vulnerable Texans like our seniors in nursing homes.
Second, recognize expenditures are expenditures whether they are found in our budget or in our tax code. Should a tax break given to a special interest be as important as fully funding our public schools? Specifically, we should use the comptroller’s Tax Exemptions and Incidence Study to identify tax breaks we can no longer afford. We should first eliminate those for out of state companies.
Finally, we should use the Rainy Day Fund — not all of it, but enough to prevent the greatest harm to our schools and nursing homes. We should keep in mind that the Rainy Day Fund self-replenishes when oil and gas prices are high, as they have been for most of this year. Experts estimate we could use $6 billion more in Rainy Day funds and be confident that today’s higher gas prices will add another $2 billion more. Rainy Day funds represent taxes already paid. Using them to prevent unnecessary cuts to education will not only protect education but also prevent job losses caused by the current budget proposal.
We cannot solve this budget crisis with blind, across-the-board cuts. There are better choices. If we return to the pragmatic political approach that once defined our politics, we will keep alive the tradition of each generation sacrificing for a better Texas.
State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, serves on the House Appropriations Committee.