Do what you said, legislature

The budget debate is in full gait in Austin. Texas legislators are wrestling with a gargantuan gape between projected revenues and expenses. It’s the kind of legislative session that reminds you just how narcissistic politicians are. Why else would they subject themselves to such torture!?!

The House of Representatives has passed a budget that reduces state spending by $23 billion. The Senate is working on one that reduces spending by $11 billion. Every beneficiary of state funds under the sun is trolling through the capitol corridors begging for mercy.

In particular, public education funding is again testing bright and well-meaning minds. It always does.

On one hand you have those who say that Texas education has been underfunded for decades and that “draconian” cuts now will be a death knell. On the other hand are those who say we now spend more per student than ever but that raw spending and student performance do not correlate.

Education is the great democratizer. An educated workforce is a – if not “the” – crucial key to economic progresses and standard of living increases. To a large extent, Texas has recognized this truth and has standardized educational opportunities across the state over the last two decades. The “equity” debates have long subsided.

However, we live in a dynamic state where 75,000 new students (net) come into the school system every year. We also live in a state where many parents can not or do not provide for their children. More than half of public school students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

Uphill battle is an understatement. Walk in the park it is not.

In 2006, the legislature decided to fund public education less with local property taxes and more with state business taxes. The philosophy: Who should be more interested in having an educated workforce than the business community? It will be cheaper to give a child basic skills on the front end than to re-train a grown worker on the back end.

Unfortunately, the business tax has not raised as much revenue as it was projected to. The economic downturn is part of the reason. Regardless, one of my core principles of governing applies here: Government should do what it says it’s going to do.

If the legislature said it would raise $6 billion for public education through a business tax, it needs to do so.

The tax ensures that all entities which enjoy the privilege of transacting business in the world’s 11th largest economy are contributing to its intellectual health. Make the tax more equitable. Raise the rate if you have to. Put a cap on it so we won’t get fat in good times, but do what you said you were going to do.

Revising the business tax would raise an additional $2 billion for public education. It won’t fill the whole budget hole, but it will increase government’s credibility and remind the business community of its responsibility to invest in a prepared employee base.

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