Garnet Coleman: Response to Governor Perry’s “State of the State” Address

Governor Rick Perry delivered his State of the State address today, and while we may disagree with many specifics, I applaud his proposals to focus on education and infrastructure this session. I further embrace the Governor’s spirit of bipartisanship. In response to President Obama’s call to work together, Governor Perry said that “Texas is ready to do our part.” I take the Governor at his word and look forward to working with him and all of my colleagues on the issues most important to Texans.

Talk, however, is not action. Governor Perry correctly pointed out that one of our most important jobs we have is educating our children. Unfortunately, Governor Perry’s very own policies have reneged on this promise by stripping funding from our schools. In 2006, his “tax swap” plan  created a structural deficit that ultimately resulted in cutting $5.4 billion cut from education last session. Texas schools are currently running $1 billion short of what they need to meet their current obligations, and this number will only get worse as the amount of students in our schools increases. The Republican leadership’s refusal to invest in public education explains why Texas was rated as “below average” in the Science and Engineering Readiness Index (SERI), and 40% of Hispanics here do not have high school degrees. Texas simply isn’t investing in our children like it used to, and that has very real and negative effects.

His policies haven’t just harmed our public schools; they have hurt higher education in Texas as well. Governor Perry’s policies have made universities less affordable than ever. Texans are paying twice as much to attend Texas universities than they were when he was elected, and that is in large part due to Governor Perry’s financial deregulation plan. A college degree is now out of reach for more and more Texans trying but unable to better themselves. He touted his “$10,000 college degree” idea as a success story, but this is misleading at best. It is impossible to obtain a $10,000 degree in some of the most important fields, such as engineering and hard sciences. Moreover, these degrees often require extensive online, community college, and even high school requirements that do not work for many Texans. His $10,000 degree idea isn’t a solution; it isn’t even a band-aid. It is an ineffectual attempt to solve an educational crisis that Governor Perry himself created.

I am willing to work with the Governor, but “bipartisanship” and working together can only do so much. At some point we must make education a priority, and that means not only restoring the funding that we cut last session, but increasing it to a level that ensures that we meet the needs of the future.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of Governor Perry’s address was his repeated refusal to participate in the Medicaid Expansion as called for in the Affordable Care Act. The Governor’s opposition to Medicaid expansion is simply bad public policy. Here are the facts: 1 in 4 Texans are uninsured, 1.2 million of whom are children. Participating in the Medicaid expansion would immediately extend coverage to about half of those children, and private insurance under the Affordable Care Act would provide coverage to much of the rest. Further, economist Ray Perryman estimates that this will come at a net financial gain for Texas. The question, therefore, isn’t whether we can afford to participate in the Medicaid Expansion; it is whether we can afford not to.

Still, while we will disagree on so much, I was encouraged by much of what Governor Perry’s focused on during the address. Whereas last session was marked by issues such as restricting the ability of minorities and the elderly to vote, state-sanctioned racial profiling, mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasounds, and drawing district lines in ways that don’t reflect the demographics of the state, the Governor’s address today was mercifully silent on such issues. In fact, he mentioned many things that I agree with. He called for South Texas universities to be able to access the Permanent University Fund, and this is a fantastic idea. Further, I support his call to tap our “Rainy Day Fund” to make much needed improvements to the state’s infrastructure as well as pay for our necessary water conservation efforts. I hope that the 83rd Legislative Session will be marked more by cooperation, not the kind of division that has defined too many past sessions.

Governor Perry and I might not share the same ideas, but we do share the same goal: making our state the best it can be. I hope this session will be a big step toward getting there.

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