In the interim hearings and campaign discussions that preceded this legislative session, state leaders identified a number of pressing issues for Texas children, some of which require targeted investments.
For example, in light of recent child deaths in state-selected foster homes and other woes at CPS, it became clear that one of the solutions was funding a reduction in the currently unmanageable caseloads for child abuse investigators and other CPS caseworkers. And both gubernatorial candidates stressed the need to invest in pre-K so that all children started kindergarten with the skills needed to succeed in school. Meanwhile, other critical education and health services still haven’t recovered from the deep cuts of 2011.
Yet, when Senate leaders recently unveiled their draft budget for the next two years, they proposed plowing a whopping $4 billion into new tax cuts while holding down spending for Texas children.
Are those tax cuts going to investigate child abuse?
Are they going to teach a four-year-old to identify the letters in the alphabet?
Of course not.
That’s why, heading into the legislative session, business leaders stressed that tax cuts were not even a priority for them. Texas is already a low-tax state. We’ve had several rounds of tax cuts in recent years. And, as the business groups pointed out, our history of low taxes and skimpy budgets has left the state with a lot of unmet basic needs. (With steep tax cuts now on the table, business leaders are angling to make sure they get their share.)
Now that the press conferences are behind us and the Legislature is getting to work, it looks like reality might be setting in. As Republican legislators inspect the Senate proposal, they are questioning the wisdom of placing giant tax cuts above other priorities, noting the state’s other current needs and the risk that permanently taking revenue off the table will throw the state into a fiscal crisis next time there’s an economic downturn.
The good news is that we’re early in the budget process. There’s still time for the legislature to boost funding for key services. There’s still time to get its priorities straight and realize that Texas kids can’t afford these new tax cuts.