February 7, 2012
Last year, in January and February, I ran two half marathons. I thought it was a great way to start the legislative session and, hopefully, not succumb to the stress-eating and typical weight gain that goes along with those 140 days.
Well, I failed. I ended up gaining about 15 pounds. I promised myself that I’d immediately get back in shape after the session. I didn’t.
I was running, but not like I should. I sort of watched what I ate, but not really. I knew all of the responsible things I should be doing; I just didn’t do them.
I talked a good game, denied that I was getting heavier, and promised I’d do what was right. I acted like I could be healthy without investing any time and work.
All the talk did no good. I actually gained five more pounds after the session. For the first time in three years, I missed running in a half marathon that was held a couple of weeks ago. My wardrobe didn’t exactly fit like it was my wardrobe.
I was a rather rotund example of how you really can’t get something for nothing.
I wrote last week about the effects of the budget cuts imposed on our schools, teachers, parents and kids last year by those in control of Texas government. These problems are directly impacting people in very different parts of the state.
Well, we’re seeing that the problems are becoming too big for even the state to deny.
Last week brought two remarkable declarations from the appointed chiefs of the state’s health and education agencies. In both cases, they said, the budget decisions made during last year’s legislative session are having profound consequences on Texas’ ability to serve its people.
On Tuesday, Education Commissioner Robert Scott declared that Texas school funding is so out of line with students’ needs that he won’t enforce rules requiring kids to pass standardized tests before they’re promoted to a higher grade.
According to this Dallas Morning News story (subscription required), Scott “said he does not believe students should be subjected to the promotion standards unless they are offered remedial classes to correct academic deficiencies. ‘I cannot and will not certify the ban on social promotion unless there are resources to provide interventions to students who need to pass the test,’ he said during a conference sponsored by the Texas Association of School Administrators.”
In other words, the failure to fund schools – to the tune of a $4 billion cut for Texas school districts, along with another $1.3 billion cut in state educational grants – is undermining the laws designed to hold students, teachers and schools accountable. After all, how can you punish students for failing to learn when you aren’t providing the resources to teach them?
Now, the thing about losing weight is that you have to do more than talk. You have to do something – like reduce calories and increase exercise. Same thing with budgets: they force people to either put their money where their mouths are, or to admit that words without actions are pretty much worthless.
Naturally, Scott’s declaration wasn’t exactly embraced by the folks who simultaneously lead the fight for better government services while protesting efforts to pay for them.
You know, for a while now, I’ve been trying to put a spotlight on the state’s terrible habit of balancing its budget through a toxic combination of Debt, Diversions and Deception. But after all of this, I think we need to add another “D” as well: Denial.
At some point, if someone says they care about schools, healthcare, roads, water supplies and other basic necessities that Texas’ future depends on, then they have to take a similar interest in actually paying for those necessities. And if they say that we don’t need these, y’know, needs – or, even worse, that we can just dig up a free lunch to cover them – then at best, they’re in denial about the challenges facing our state and what it will take to meet them.
Unless, of course, they’re not in denial. I guess it’s possible that they’re simply being deceptive and irresponsible. But I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.
That notion of deception reminds me of something? What is it?
Oh, right – my putting on pants with a bigger waist to deliberately make me feel like I wasn’t gaining so much weight.
And one more thing: it also reminds me of the decision by those in control of the Capitol last year to deliberately understate costs Texas faces so they can pretend the state’s budget is balanced.
In addition to refusing to fund school enrollment growth for the first time anyone knows of, those in control ignored about $5 billion in projected Medicaid healthcare costs that’ll build up this year and next.
By ignoring those costs, the folks who control the budget could call it balanced without having to come up with the $5 billion they know they’ll need for children, the elderly and others who depend on Medicaid.
How’s that working out?
Well, the Medicaid shortfall waiting for legislators when they come back to Austin next year will balloon to somewhere in the neighborhood $17 billion – at least, that’s according to Tom Suehs the executive commissioner for Health and Human Services.
Speaking last week, Suehs said that last year he “basically said something to the effect, ‘I don’t see how the Legislature’s gonna get out of this session without some form of revenue.’ I got in trouble for that. And I’m going to say the same thing today.”
So the people running some of our most important state agencies are warning that those in control of the Capitol have got to own up to the consequences of past actions, stop denying the challenges Texas is facing, and do something to fix the state’s broken budget.
I hope everyone’s listening.
I recently stopped denying my weight gain and trying to deceive myself.
As I write this, I’ve been training hard, paying attention to food and drink, and losing weight – 19 pounds, so far.
It’s hard. I’m hungry. I’ve got some sore muscles. But it’s the responsible thing for me to do to assure a healthy lifestyle and longer life.
Texas needs to do the same.