Doctor My Eyes

Doctor My Eyes 

April 26, 2011

Let’s play doctor.
 
Say there’s an ailing patient – we’ll call her Mrs. Schools.

First she goes to a doctor – call him Dr. House (no, not that Dr. House; he’s just on TV) – to find out how she can get better.

The doctor correctly diagnoses her and listens to folks who describe how to make her better.  But then he decides it’s easier for everyone involved – certainly him – to ignore all that sound judgment would dictate and not really treat her problems.  
 
Instead, Dr. House prescribes a course of care that involves as little time, resources and, y’know, treatment as possible – sort of a mix of bleeding, starvation, and blind hope that she’ll get better.

Naturally, Mrs. Schools (and all of her many friends and children) are horrified.  They go for a second opinion – this time, to Dr. Senate.

Tell me what you see

Dr. Senate declares that Dr. House’s approach will kill Mrs. Schools.  He reassures her that she’s exactly right and Dr. House was so very wrong.  And he proclaims, sagely and impressively, that he will save Mrs. Schools.

Naturally, Mrs. Schools, her friends, and her children are overjoyed by this compassionate, far-sighted doctor.  They wait with nervous anticipation for his plan. They even talk of cutting Dr. Senate’s grass in gratitude.
 
And then the prescription finally comes.

First off, there’s no real medicine – not even, really, an acknowledgment that Mrs. Schools isn’t as well as she should be.  Certainly nothing to put her on a path to health.

But then she looks closer and sees, to everyone’s shock and horror, that Dr. Senate has prescribed some bleeding and starvation of his own.  Not as bad as Dr. House – not bad enough to kill her for at least a couple of years – but definitely bad enough to make her far sicker.

So Mrs. Schools goes to Dr. Senate and asks, “How can you do this to me?  Didn’t I tell you I’m sick?”

And the Doctor responds proudly, “Hey, you’ll live.  And at least I’m better than Dr. House!” 

I hear their cries

All of which is to say that the mess of the Senate’s draft 2012-13 budget will be up for a vote this week, most likely.

The folks responsible for said mess are working long and hard to be judged by the budget passed by the Texas House of Representatives, which cuts even more horribly into things like schools and nursing homes.  But as I wrote last week, the Senate plan is still utterly inadequate for the state’s needs.  Among other things, it leaves public schools with about $4 billion less than they’d have under current law – which, suffice it to say, does nothing for Texas’ status among the bottom states nationally when it comes to state and local spending per pupil, SAT scores, and high-school completion.

But it’s not just about misplaced priorities, dollars and common sense.
 
This isn’t merely about the malpractice our kids and grandkids will see when they look back at what this legislature wanted to do to schools, colleges and universities, the healthcare system and other basic infrastructure. 
 
And it’s not only that the final draft of the state budget – in establishing some mid-point between the chambers – will probably be much, much worse even than the detrimental, damaging Senate version.

It’s that the Senate’s proposed budget will do nothing to reform the mismanagement, denial and lack of honesty that got us into this situation in the first place.

Just say if it’s too late for me

There’s a growing awareness – or, at least, a growing willingness to admit – that the state has relied on debt, diversions and deception for so long that the legislature is simply no longer in position to fund the priorities that are important to Texans.

And there’s been sporadic talk this session about truly reforming the system.  Those in control of the legislature have already accepted my proposals to increase reporting on the state’s finances and to make sure we all know what’s in the final version of the budget before it’s voted on.

But that’s clearly only a start.  It’s so clearly only a start, in fact, that those in control have talked about reforming the failed Margins Tax scheme that’s created a recurring hole in the state budget.  Some have even suggested everything from a statewide property tax to a business income tax to closing loopholes that benefit certain powerful special interests.

So what came of all that talk?  What happened to all of that bipartisan seriousness to really look at what’s wrong and to fix it so we aren’t dealing with another largely identical budget crisis in two years?

Nothing.

We’ve been left with nothing but a House budget that cuts Texans’ necessities and priorities to an intolerable level, and a Senate budget that pays for a few more of those necessities – but largely with one-time money and accounting tricks.
 
And we have no reform of the long-time, longstanding structural problems and practices that created this crisis in the first place.

The Senate needs to stop comparing itself to House and pretending it’s doing something “adequate.”

Instead, those in control need to pull back this inadequate plan, take the time we all need to reform the system that created this crisis, and show Texans a budget that reflects our priorities.

Call a real doctor.  There’s still time for real healing.

Kirk Watson

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