The Dallas Morning News
Texas Legislature and cities must work together
State and local policies can dovetail to improve education and health care
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.