Revenue Crisis Glossed Over by Governor But Exposed in Budget Hearings

Gov. Rick Perry in his State of the State address today tried hard to gloss over the destructive impact of the state’s revenue shortfall. But the unreality of his rosy scenario is being exposed day after day in the Senate Finance Committee’s ongoing budget hearings.

The governor claimed conditions in Texas under his leadership have made us the envy of the nation. He disputed the need to draw down the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help deal with the revenue shortfall—which puts the state $27 billion below the amount needed to maintain current services. Gov. Perry said the $9.4 billion in the Rainy Day Fund needs to be protected for unspecified future emergencies—instead of being used to deal with the one occurring right now.

Gov. Perry’s own budget recommendations issued today amount to an endorsement, with only minor adjustments, of the harsh budget plans introduced in the House and Senate last month. In public education, these budget proposals would cut roughly $1,000 per pupil from annual state aid to school districts, chop potentially 100,000 school employees’ jobs, and wipe out state grants for pre-kindergarten for 64,000 schoolchildren and extra help for 650,000 students at risk of failing high-stakes state exams. Cuts in health care and higher education, in family protective services and public safety, would leave a similar swath of destruction.

The truth belied by Gov. Perry’s State of the State address has been coming out, nonetheless, in the Senate Finance Committee. Yesterday the governor’s own appointee as state education commissioner, Robert Scott, told the committee flatly:  “I don’t think our performance measures [i.e., state-defined goals for educational achievement] can be met with the baseline budgets that have been set in either house.”

As Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi later testified, the damage would go beyond the immediate harm done to educational services and the direct loss of education jobs. The combined loss of public-sector and private-sector employment that resulting from such deep cuts in public education could exceed 240,000 jobs—enough to boost the state’s unemployment rate above 10 percent and stifle the state’s recovery from recession.

Along with our many organizational partners in the Texas Forward coalition, Texas AFT is calling on lawmakers to take a more balanced approach to balancing the budget, including the use of the Rainy Day Fund for its intended purpose as well as finding other revenue sources—for instance, by ending unjustified tax exemptions that cost the state treasury billions of dollars a year.

In response to the governor’s out-of-touch speech today, Texas AFT President Linda Bridges had this comment:

“Gov. Perry has succeeded in only one thing with his State of the State speech—staying consistent with a leadership style intent on taking Texas backwards instead of seeking a balanced approach to our budget that looks for solutions to a crisis in Texas education.

“Our kids are our future, and Gov. Perry is turning his back on both. A true leader would sound a call to action for the Legislature to use the Rainy Day Fund, seek new sources of revenue, fix the structural deficit created with the 2006 tax changes and work collaboratively to maximize federal assistance with the $830 million on hold for Texas education jobs.

“Texas school districts already have launched efforts for efficiency and productivity in the face of budget shortfalls the past two years, and now the governor would leave them with little choice but to lay off teachers, board up schools and cut core educational services designed to meet the rigorous demands our state has for higher student achievement.

“Gov. Perry, is this really the best you can do? Texas can do better for our kids and our future.”