Respectful of taxpayer, majority governs well
the spirit of the Christmas season, let me begin on an optimistic note. Texas appears to have weathered the worst of a storm. Strong conservative fiscal principles and low taxes have made Texas the economic envy of the nation. Since the Legislature last met, state unemployment has dropped, real estate is rebounding, new businesses are locating here, and tax revenues are higher than anticipated. There is no serious talk of tax increases or further cuts in education spending, and the rainy day fund is healthy.
We have the good fortune of legislating in a state that is geographically well-located and blessed with oil and gas tax revenues. This has allowed us to build great universities and hospitals and fund the services required of a large, modern state without an income tax. We are not burdened with the huge debt or unfunded liabilities weighing heavily on other populous states like California, Illinois and New York.
There is no doubt about it: Fiscally responsible governance has led to a strong economy that is attracting people to Texas. From 2000 to 2010, Texas population grew by over 4.2 million people, and by 2030 we are expected to add another 7 million people. This level of growth brings with it prosperity for our state as well as challenges.
As Republicans in the Texas House confront those challenges in 2013, we will be guided by three principles: 1) identify and focus on the core functions of government; 2) anticipate and prepare Texans for the challenges of the next 20 years, and 3) respect the taxpayer.
Public education has always been a core function of our government and remains our highest priority. In 2011, budget restraints caused by the recession and lower tax revenues forced legislators to make some tough and unpopular decisions. Our focus during the upcoming session will be to write a budget that adequately and equitably addresses enrollment growth in public and higher education. A consensus is also building among members to de-emphasize the seemingly singular focus of standardized testing in our classrooms. Assessment and accountability have a place in our system, but we need to strike a balance, to find a common-sense approach that doesn’t undermine the joy of teaching and learning.
Health and Human Services spending, driven by exploding Medicaid costs, is threatening our ability to properly fund other core functions of state government. Medicaid expenditures account for 23 percent of the appropriated budget in 2012-13. In 2011, we enacted $1.8 billion in cost-saving measures for Medicaid, but without substantial reform at the federal level the Texas budget will continue to be strained by Medicaid costs. We will continue to urge the federal government to give us the freedom to deliver necessary medical services in a more innovative and efficient manner.
Business is attracted to areas with sensible regulation and a low tax burden, but they also seek well-maintained roads, reliable power and an adequate water supply. If Texas is to continue to grow and prosper, we must address these infrastructure needs. Population growth and a growing economy have increased congestion, pollution, and wear-and-tear on our highways. Furthermore, the 2012 State Water Plan projects that demand for water will increase by 22 percent in the next 50 years, and unless we take action, the available supply of water will drop by 10 percent during the same period. Republicans are committed to finding common-sense and fiscally sound solutions to address Texas’ infrastructure needs for the coming years.
Texas Republicans live by the mantra of fiscal responsibility. However, fiscal responsibility requires more than a balanced budget. The debt we pass on to our children is not measured simply in dollars and cents. It is imperative that we also pass along well-maintained roads and bridges, reliable energy and water, and most importantly a well-educated workforce prepared for the 21st-century global economy.
There will be 95 Republican House members when the 150-member House convenes Jan. 8. The House Republican Caucus is made up of men and women who are ethnically, racially, geographically and philosophically diverse. We do not all think alike or agree on every issue, but we take our responsibility to govern seriously.
We will continue to work with our Democratic colleagues and reach consensus with them when we can, but we are committed to writing a state budget within the constraints of available revenue. The American-Statesman steps back and invites contributors to present two points of view on an issue that affects our readership.
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or email taxes. But what does that really mean? A shrinking budget doesn’t just mean cutting Medicaid and food stamps. It also means fewer roads and more congestion, less water in times of record drought, and unreliable energy transmission in an energy-rich state.
Our state faces real challenges. There are cities in Texas that are literally running out of water. The state’s bipartisan 1997 water plan now costs $53 billion, up from $17.9 billion in 2002, and the price will only increase with time. Not to mention, the number of counties and cities without adequate water supply in times of drought also will increase.
On transportation policy, Texas needs $488 billion in infrastructure projects by 2030, according to the nonpartisan Texas Transportation Institute. Yet despite this looming crisis, Republicans for the first time in Texas history budgeted more money to pay the debt on existing road projects than