April 30, 2013
Some local jurisdictions are holding elections right now. I voted early yesterday.
It didn’t go as well as it usually does.
Of course, I’ve voted many times. The neat people who work the polls – being the sorts of concerned citizens who follow local politics – tend to recognize me, though of course I still show the required identification.
Yesterday, that’s how it started. I said hello to the nice woman; she called me Senator. I flashed my state-issued license (I’d left my voter registration card at home). She scanned it.
And then she sort of frowned. She scanned it again. And again.
Then she told me that the computer had identified me as someone named Virginia.
It’s very disappointing. I thought I’d sufficiently buried that part of my past.
The good news is I was able to vote, using a different ID. I hope things work out as well for Virginia.
The Senate took a big vote last week. It covered schools, roads, water supplies – you know, just those little things that will help determine how prosperous Texas is in the 21st Century.
Really, the fact that it covered education at all was a tangible win for Texas and its schools and kids. And let’s just say it: it reflects a ton of work that Democrats have done over the months and years to increase support and funding for public education in this state.
Also (and maybe this is the biggest headline), it passed unanimously.
If you saw all of this go down this past Tuesday, it would be understandable if you had “Kumbaya” – or some other song about peace and harmony – running through your head (if that song was this one, you’re welcome; if it was actually “Kumbaya,” well, I hope you like it better than I do).
Heck, you might even have felt a little cheated that some politicians could take up a big issue with a big price tag and big implications for a huge number of people without the whole thing degenerating into the food fight scenefrom a movie that might not be completely appropriate for this family-friendly newsletter.
Anyway, with that vote and a number of others before it, some folks have taken to calling this the “Kumbaya Session.” To tell you the truth, I have no idea whether all of the good feeling will last through the four weeks we have left before the clock runs out – there are controversies and fights, most of them quite avoidable, that could yet make things unpleasant.
But why focus on the negative? Let’s talk about what happened last week.
A week ago, the Senate unanimously passed a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that, if also passed by the state House of Representatives and approved by voters this November, will put $2 billion into water projects, $2.9 billion into transportation, and $800 million into schools.
We were also able to secure the commitment from budget writers that the state will put an additional $1.4 billion – over and above what’s been put into education in budget votes thus far – straight into Texas schools.
That $1.4 billion comes from unexpected revenues related to property taxes. The other $5.7 billion (the sum total earmarked for schools, water and transportation) would come from the state’s primary savings account, known around the building as the Rainy Day Fund.
Many of us have been working for much of the last two sessions to put some of this Rainy Day windfall into basic priorities and necessities, especially Texas classrooms. The fund is projected to have nearly $12 billion in it when the budget we’re writing wraps up in 2015.
It took a few hours of sometimes tense discussions last week to nail down the full $2.2 billion commitment to schools (that’s the sum of the $800 million in Rainy Day funding and $1.4 billion in unexpected, reinvested property tax revenues). And we’re proud of that result.
But as meaningful as that total is, Texas still could’ve done better.
Senate Democrats offered an amendment that – fairly and evenly – would have put $2 billion apiece from the Rainy Day Fund into transportation, water projects and schools.
That’s $1.2 billion more than the Senate’s budget writers proposed. It also would have put our schools and kids on par with our roads and water. And it would have taken a big step toward providing resources for schoolchildren that a judge indicated were needed when he declared earlier this year that Texas’ school finance system is unconstitutional.
Unfortunately, that amendment, along with others that would have put more money into schools, failed on party-line votes. Each of these amendments offered a chance to help Texas kids. It’s really a shame that the folks in control of the Senate chose to pass them by.
But even without those amendments, last week’s work still represents a significant win for members of the Senate Democratic Caucus who’ve worked so hard to increase funding for public education. Texas schools simply would not have received these badly needed resources without this effort.
We say it all the time: Texas can do better, for our schools, our kids, our teachers and our future. With last week’s effort, we’re proud to say, Texas is starting to do better.