It’s time to invest in the people of Texas

Photo by Austin Price / The Texas Tribune

With energy and ideas from first-time legislators and lots of newly engaged Texans, we're at the beginning of an exciting and critically important Texas legislative session.

Now is the time for Texas to invest in our most valuable resource — our own people.

As Texas lawmakers get to work at the state Capitol, let’s encourage them to focus on five key opportunities to invest in people and improve our state:

  1. Well-funded public schools: As new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, has said, remodeling our school finance system is a top priority for the state. Money matters in education, and Texas deserves the best teachers, smaller classes, higher graduation rates, more college-ready students and great results for low-income kids and English language learners. We can afford to fund public education to ensure the prosperity of our state’s 5.4 million public school students.
  2. Affordable, quality health care: Over $6 billion per year of federal funding — tax dollars that Texans have already paid — is available to expand access to health care in Texas. There is no logical reason for state leaders to continue to leave that money on the table. Other states — including "red" states like Indiana, Kentucky and Montana — have used federal funding effectively to provide health care to more of their residents.
  3. Investing in the future: Projections from state Comptroller Glenn Hegar indicate that Texas leaders will have more funds than expected available to invest in our state, including a record-setting $12.5 billion in the state's Economic Stabilization Fund. Responsibly investing state revenue in education and health care is critical to our economy and our future.
  4. 2020 Census: Billions of dollars in federal aid depend on the accuracy of the 2020 Census, including support for health care, housing, transportation and food. Unfortunately, Texas communities are at significant risk of being undercounted. An undercount of even one percent could result in a significant loss in federal funding for Texas — at least $300 million a year. Local leaders and state lawmakers can establish a “Texas Complete Count Committee” by proclamation or legislation and fund a robust outreach plan to help ensure all Texans are counted.
  5. Local control: Local leaders understand their communities best, and state lawmakers should allow cities and other local governments to make decisions that meet the needs of their constituents. State legislators should honor rather than interfere with decisions by our cities and counties to set tax rates, raise the minimum wage or enable workers to earn paid sick leave.

As proud Texans, we are blessed with abundant natural resources, a thriving economy and a growing, diverse population. To ensure a strong future for all Texans, though, we need to take a sober look at what’s not working — and come together to fix it.

Despite our state’s wealth, one in four Texas children live in poverty. Too few finish college or get associate degrees. Too many Texans are stuck in low-wage jobs, so income inequality is rising. And almost 5 million Texans lack health insurance — the highest number in any state.

Investing in the people of Texas will help build an economy that works for everyone. That means a large middle class, with ample opportunities for people to work their way into it. It means quality public schools and colleges that prepare young people to be engaged Texans and provide the talent our businesses need. It means living-wage jobs that enable families to meet basic needs, contribute to the economy and save for the future. It means access to affordable health care and healthy food. And it means dismantling barriers that prevent women, people of color and immigrants from reaching their full potential and participating in our democracy.

I am more optimistic than ever that together we can make real progress in Texas in 2019, but success will require staying active and working with lawmakers from both parties.

Let’s roll up our sleeves to advance fact-driven policy solutions that will make Texas the best state for hard-working people and their families.

Ann Beeson

CEO, Center for Public Policy Priorities