Last fall, as he was campaigning, Texas Governor Rick Perry proudly boasted, “Texas is open for business.”
Now, with a $27 billion budget shortfall and items such as education and health services subject to the chopping block, the state might not look as attractive to business as it once did.
Texas leaders have rightly touted the state as a model for growth and a magnet for business. For that goal to remain viable, however, the state must continue to improve education and health services. To become the kind of leader most Texans envision, the state needs to be among the top in educational opportunities and health care. Currently, that’s not the case.
And proposed budget cuts that threaten to eliminate public school teachers, important academic programs and extra-curricular activities would further undermine any efforts to be among the elite in education providers.
One budget cut proposal would eliminate testing high school athletes for steroid use.
Early budget proposals also call for elimination of a handful of community colleges, which have been a godsend to many rural communities, providing both technical training and basic college courses at a fraction of the cost of four-year institutions.
Agriculture could feel the pain of the budget axe as well if education budgets hit the triple tines of ag education, research and Extension. State funding is essential to maintain programs that are vital to the Texas agriculture industry — and agriculture contributes significantly to the state’s economy.
Deep cuts to favored programs will be necessary unless the legislature finds ways to increase revenue. Neither option is painless. Higher taxes, user fees, costlier licenses and other options have been discussed. Some would pull from Texas’ “Rainy Day Fund,” currently at $9.4 billion, but a sizeable block of Texas legislators object to tapping that money to escape the current budget crisis.
If this isn’t a hard rain, we don’t want to see one.
No easy answers await Texas legislators as they mull their options. We don’t envy them the chore or the hard decisions they have to make. But, we would encourage them to take more than a short view of what’s best for the state. Deep cuts in education, health and agriculture will be counterproductive.
An educated workforce is vital to the continued growth and prosperity of a community, a state or a nation. We have recently been reminded of our country’s declining reputation as a leader in education. Our long-term goal must be to regain our place at the top.
Health care, too, is essential to an effective and efficient workforce and a stable community. It’s a complicated issue with no easy answers, as legislators for decades have discovered. But, being hard doesn’t mean something’s not worth doing.
Agricultural programs continue to provide farmers, ranchers and consumers with the information and the tools necessary to make educated choices on production and consumption. Cutting back on research, education and demonstration opportunities will undermine our ability to feed and clothe our population efficiently and economically.
It’s a tough year to be a Texas legislator. We just ask that they take the challenge to do what’s best for all Texans.