The Dallas Morning News

Texas Legislatur­e and cities must work together

State and local policies can dovetail to improve education and health care

- LUISA DEL ROSAL Luisa del Rosal is the former executive director of the Tower Center and Texas-mexico Center at Southern Methodist University. She is a contributi­ng columnist to The Dallas Morning News.

As the Legislatur­e continues its 88th session, the eyes of all the Texas cities are on the state Capitol: With a record-setting $188.2 billion in revenue, including $165.9 billion in new revenue and a $32.7 billion budget surplus, Texas legislator­s have a historic opportunit­y to fuel Texas’ growing economy, cut taxes and save more than a few cents for a rainy day.

They should do so in a way that complement­s local efforts and mobilizes partners. Likewise, cities should follow the example and implement policies that complement the state’s reforms.

Together, state legislator­s and city leaders are crafting laws that respond to local needs and dovetail with local initiative­s on a wide range of issues. These are the areas where I believe that elected officials should continue to lead and focus on for the 88th session, then the work should continue in our cities.

One critical issue is education. The growth in Texas’ population, including much from migration from high-tax states (i.e., California), means both state and local government­s must deal with funding challenges. This is an important tax issue as well.

In 2019, the Texas State House passed historic school finance reform, reducing property taxes while securing the state’s commitment to providing high-quality education. In 2021, they followed this up with three more victories: two bills further reduced property taxes, and a third law eliminated taxes on the constructi­on of schools, giving every neighborho­od better choices in education.

Texas cities have taken the state’s lead, finding new, innovative ways to provide better access to high-quality schools. For example, Fort Worth’s fiscally conservati­ve mayor and City Council eliminated transporta­tion impact fees for building new schools, complement­ing the state law. Thanks to the city and the state working hand in hand, better education will be coming soon to many neighborho­ods. With education on the top of everyone’s mind in the 88th session, this year may bring even more educationa­l benefits for Texas families.

Another critical issue is health care. Look at the crucial area of maternal health care. Texas is the best place in America to raise a family, and that means many mothers having babies. Yet too many Texas women are not receiving the proper preventive care or any care at all. Not all can afford the care they deserve. Before 2021, Medicaid coverage extended only 60 days postpartum, but a 2017 study ordered by the Texas Senate found that a majority of maternal deaths occur more than 60 days postpartum.

Local programs are filling the gap. Parkland’s Extending Maternal Pregnancy Care After Pregnancy Program extends coverage out to a year postpartum. Here, the state can follow the lead of local institutio­ns.

Last session, the Texas House passed a maternal health care bill that lets mothers use Medicaid for six months after giving birth, providing much-needed assistance for countless families. This year, the Legislatur­e should expand it to the full 365 days.

Working together, state and local initiative­s can deliver maternal health care for all Texans. The Legislatur­e needs to continue to focus on this and issues around health care.

For the next few months of the legislativ­e session, the eyes of Texas will be on Austin. We should keep looking beyond these months and then focus on our cities.

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