State Representative Chris Turner

Good, but not good enough

onfloorofHouseLate Thursday night, I voted against the proposed state budget in the Texas House of Representatives. I would like commend the work of my colleagues serving on the Committee on Appropriations for the hard work that went in to creating this budget. It is a tough job, with long hours, and took a great deal of compromise and effort to arrive at what was proposed.

However, government budgets are, at their core, an expression of what we value most. And put simply, this budget does not pass the values test.

The people of Southeast Arlington and Southwest Grand Prairie have given me the privilege of representing their interests in our state Capitol − and for nearly two years, I have heard loud and clear from parents, teachers and education leaders in our district that the $5.4 billion in public education cuts that the last Legislature imposed have dramatically harmed our schools. We have fewer teachers and larger class sizes. Districts have had to make painful cuts in electives, the arts, technology, materials and more.

A recent analysis by the National Education Association shows that Texas has plummeted to 49th in the nation in per pupil education spending − about $66,000 less per elementary classroom than the national average.

I know we value our students more than that. I know that Texas schools deserve better than that.

Does the House budget represent an improvement on the status quo because it partially restores the cuts? Undoubtedly. But it only puts back a total of $2.5 billion, or 46 cents for every dollar that was cut two years ago. That’s just not good enough.

Now, if this budget had swept the corners and utilized every dollar available in an effort to help our schools − and this was truly the best that could be done − then perhaps I could have supported it.

But this isn’t the best that could be done − and it doesn’t even come close. Between unspent general revenue and the historic amount of money the state’s Rainy Day Fund will hold at the end of the next budget cycle, this budget leaves more than $13 billion on the table. In other words, we could have a budget that leaves a very healthy $10 billion Rainy Day Fund balance and fully restores the needless education budget cuts. But this budget does not do that, and that is the main reason I voted no.

There are other problems, as well. The budget once again dramatically underfunds Medicaid, leaving an IOU for the next Legislature. This at a time when Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation, including 1.2 million children. Higher education fares better in the House budget than what the Senate passed, but financial aid levels for our college students still have not recovered from the last round of budget cuts.

I think people in Tarrant County and across our state expect a government that makes smart decisions to invest in our future. There is no greater investment in our future than doing everything we can to help the nearly five million school children of Texas realize their full God-given potential by providing the very best public education for each and every one of them. This budget falls well short of that basic values test, which is why I voted no.

It is my hope that as negotiators in the House and Senate begin work on a final budget, they will take into account the wide chasm between the needs of our public schools and the resources our state provides to meet those needs. The considerable sum in our state’s Rainy Day Fund can easily close that chasm − legislators simply have to see the value and have the will to make it happen.