March 29, 2011
First the fun part.
Long time readers of the Watson Wire know that the Watson family is sort of goofy for high school lacrosse.
When he was an 8th grader, our eldest child, Preston McDaniel Watson, now a 21-year-old junior in college, showed up with a lacrosse stick in his hand and said he wanted to play the game. His old man, who fancies himself as a sort of sports savant, didn’t know anything at all about the game. (I have a theory about why lacrosse is said to be the fastest growing sport in Texas: there’s a whole generation of boys whose fathers can’t say to them, “Let me tell you how good I was at this when I played in high school.”)
Preston went on to have a really great career, and Liz and I adopted the sport sort of whole hog.
Now, Cooper Kyle Watson, our younger offspring (a 15-year-old sophomore at Austin High) is playing on the JV team. We’re in the middle of the season. Last week, there were three games. We won all three and Cooper is showing some real style and head for the game.
I’d be enjoying this even if we weren’t in a legislative session. But it’s cool, during a session, to watch activity where there are actual rules about hitting people with sticks.
The way Texas has mismanaged its budget is making some folks feel like they’re getting the short end of a lacrosse stick.
We already knew Texas was looking at serious, immediate human pain due to the clear-cutting of health necessities in the proposed budget.
And we knew this budget would undermine the state’s future by slashing teachers, closing schools, packing more kids into overcrowded classrooms, or even forcing school districts to raise taxes.
Well, we now know this budget will be an economic catastrophe, as well.
A report came out last week declaring that the proposed budget up for a vote in the state House of Representatives Friday would lead to about 335,000 fewer Texas jobs come 2013.
Why, who would say such a thing? From the reaction of those in control of the budget, you’d think the report came from the Institute of Gigantic, Noisy, Odious and Regrettable Explanations (IGNORE, for short).
But, no, this required report came from the boringly named Legislative Budget Board, a state agency that helps legislators assemble and analyze the budget. The alarmists who are in charge of this group? The extremists overseeing such crazy talk?
None other than the very officials who control the state’s budget and finances. None other than those who should bear responsibility for the broken budget and the fact that the state’s broke.
Naturally, not many of those in control were thrilled with this board’s non-partisan, dogma-free assessment. The general reaction was an assortment of non-denial denials ranging from “It could be worse” to “I don’t believe that.” Paul Burka at Texas Monthly wrapped up the official protests here under the great headline, “Help! Help! There’s a pig in this room! Quick, get the lipstick!”
It would have been reassuring to hear people honestly look at the study and the assumptions that went into it, and then say that the number wasn’t correct or the report was wrong. And how refreshing would it have been to hear them concede that the numbers are right and show that we need to reform the state’s budget and finances?
But we didn’t get that – just more rhetoric and buzzwords and denial about what this budget will mean for the state and its future.
Here’s a good rule about budget writing: when someone is presented with empirical data and responds with campaign slogans, get nervous.
The thing is, this sort of report really challenges the story for those in control – in ways that all of the other negative reports don’t.
I’ve heard it said that the philosophy of those in control rests on a trade-off: as long as the economy is OK, voters will put up with things like tragically high percentages of uninsured people, shockingly low percentages of adults with a high school diploma, rampant pollution emissions, ever worsening traffic, etc. Heck, the reasoning seems to be that Texans will even stand for less than honest budgeting practices and a willingness to cover up mismanagement.
Well, we’re now faced with a budget that – according to the Legislative Budget Board – will by itself create an economic catastrophe affecting tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of Texans, undermining our already delicate economic footing. It’s like every Texan is about to get a T-shirt that reads, “I’ve tried to make do without teachers and a strong education for my kids, and all I got for it is a lousy economy.”
But don’t take my word for it. Ask the Economist magazine, which once lauded Texas as a national economic leader and now runs headlines like, “The Texas budget: A blow to the model.”
Those who’ve created this mess – those who, by the way, control the Legislative Budget Board – owe Texans an honest assessment of the problem, real reform of the system that created it, and solutions that will lead Texas back to prosperity. I’ve proposed a package of reforms I call the Honesty Agenda to make government more transparent and those responsible for it more accountable, and to help the state get to a point where the budget will be not just balanced but sustainably balanced. I hope you’ll take a look.
But beyond that, there’s something specific you can do about this crisis – something Texas needs you to do.
On Wednesday, April 6, a coalition of groups is hosting the Save Our State rally at the Texas Capitol.
This will be one of the largest gatherings of this legislative session. It’s our chance to demand reform of a broken system, to ask that responsibility trump rhetoric, and to fight a bad budget that will threaten Texas’ future, its children, seniors, and economy.
You can learn more about the rally, contribute to the organizers, and maybe find a ride at www.april62011.org.
I really hope – and Texas really needs – to see you there.