Election Results Portend Tougher Legislative Session in 2011

Today’s election returns have tilted the playing field to the disadvantage of Texas educators and public schools, especially in the Texas House. The decision of Texas voters ousted more than 20 members of the House who have been reliable supporters of Texas students and their schools. In partisan terms, the results leave the House split between 99 Republicans and 51 Democrats, barring changes by way of a recount or post-election party-switching.

The Texas House is not organized along purely partisan lines, however. Already tonight the incumbent Republican House speaker, Joe Straus of San Antonio, has published a list of more than 120 representatives-elect who have pledged to support his re-election to the House leadership post-and that list includes nearly every one of the Democrats who will take the House oath of office in January.

The changing fortunes of the two major political parties do not alter the already difficult outlook for the state budget, which could be as much as $25 billion short of needed revenue to continue providing current levels of public services in 2012-2013. That potential shortfall is only partly due to the effect of the 2007-2009 recession and the weak recovery since on state tax revenue. A big part of the shortfall stems from bad decisions made by the legislature and governor in past legislative sessions, when they knowingly engineered a tax swap that cut school property taxes without providing sufficient new revenue to replace the billions of dollars in cuts.

A state Rainy Day Fund flush with an estimated $9 billion by next year will not cover more than about 40 to 45 percent of the anticipated shortfall. Even if the entire Rainy Day Fund is put to use, the coming session will be dominated by a struggle for adequate funding. There are only two options-either cuts in already underfunded, education, health care, and other public services deeper and meaner than any we’ve seen in recent memory, or new revenue. Texas AFT will be fighting for a balanced approach to balancing the budget, alongside our allies in a broad-based coalition called Texas Forward. And we will be calling on you to enlist in that fight.