Texas legislators have an important choice ahead of them, one that needs to be made sooner rather than later.
Our state needs a new budget.
While the Texas Legislature has still not passed a new budget, which is their only constitutionally mandated job during their biennial gathering, both the House and the Senate have passed their own spending bills.
The two disagree on how to pay for public schools, water and road projects, but the Senate’s plan to use $5.7 billion from the so-called “Rainy Day Fund” to finance these projects is both practical and necessary.
Some of the $5.4 billion cut from public education will be returned under the Senate’s plan, although not nearly enough to help the struggling school system. The Texas Supreme Court still has to rule on whether the state’s school funding system is even constitutional.
It’s time for Texas to figure out how to equitably fund public schools and develop comprehensive standardized testing that doesn’t take away from necessary classroom instruction. The 5.5 percent increase in public education funding in the state senate’s budget is a start.
While the increase in spending, a reflection of the improving Texas economy, is certainly something to rejoice about, the state legislature still has yet to provide adequate resources to fix Texas’ three biggest issues: an underfunded education system, a highway system that is quickly falling into disrepair, and water infrastructure that simply won’t be able to sustain our projected population growth.
Gov. Rick Perry has stated that he will not sign the new budget with $1.8 billion in tax cuts and $2 billion to improve the state’s water infrastructure, a dire need that will only grow more pressing with time.
And while Gov. Perry may force legislators to continue past the 140 day session, the budget impasse demonstrates why only allowing legislators to pass a budget once every two years can cause tremendous problems. The two year gap did not give legislators time to compensate for falling property tax levels in 2011, resulting in huge budget cuts.
If Texans want to get serious about fixing our biggest problems, we need to pass a constitutional amendment that would require the Texas Legislature to meet every year: one year in a 140 day session, and the next year in a shorter session to amend the budget to compensate for new needs or revenue shortfalls/surpluses.
Our future depends on it.
The opinion expressed here is that of the Herald-Banner editorial board. The board can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.