Early in the 81st Session of the Texas Legislature, Governor Rick Perry gave his state of the state speech. Here’s what he said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, the State of our State is good.”
Here’s what he did not say: “Texas government is failing Texans.” Sadly, that’s the real state of the state. Five sessions into Rick Perry’s reign, just what is going on in Austin?
Here is the reality behind the rhetoric. 5.83 million Texans have no health insurance — one in four — making Texas the least insured state in the nation. Not a single Texas city even reaches the national average in citizens with health insurance.
From 2001 to 2005, Texas families saw their health insurance premiums soar 86 percent—six times faster than their Medicaid incomes increased. Despite the health care crisis in Texas, during the 81st Legislative Session, Perry stated that he’d veto a Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) bill that had already passed the Senate 29—2.
In education, we now rank 46th in SAT scores and dead last in the percentage of the population 25 and older with a high school diploma. Only 64 percent of ninth graders from high school within four years, and only 35 percent enter college. By fall 2009, tuition at places like the University of Texas at El Paso will have increased 73 percent, making college a distant dream for many Texans. No tuition cap bill passed.
Our great Texas cities have America’s worst air. Texans now breathe air with more carcinogens than citizens of any other state in America. Insurance rates on health, home, and auto are among the highest in the U.S. and rising. Failed regulatory agencies let predatory lenders push 1,100 percent interest rates on pay day loans on every corner in towns like my own.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Texas will lose another 300,000 jobs this year. During this session, S.B. 1569, would have drawn up to nearly $1 billion in federal unemployment insurance benefits and as a consequence, would have reduced unemployment insurance burdens on Texas employers.
Up to 75,000 currently unemployed workers could have benefited from this measure. However, as soon as the availability of the federal stimulus money was announced, Governor Rick Perry immediately stated his opposition to expanding the pool of unemployed Texans who are eligible for unemployment benefits.
Today, Texas workers who lose their jobs are the least likely in our nation to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits that would help them meet their basic needs. More than 1 million Texans are unemployed. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, in July we will run out of unemployment insurance money and be forced to start borrowing from the Federal Government.
Perry’s highway department is out of money. Per reports from his own business commission, TXDOT will need $8 billion more each year to meet the state’s growing needs. Approximately $2.9 billion in highway money has been raided every biennium to pay other budgets like the Arts Commission and litigation at the AG’s office, making “robbing Peter to pay Paul” the official state policy.
Despite Perry’s State of the State promises to reduce diversions, this session Perry managed to prevent only $365 million in diversions. Session finished with desperately needed bond still on the table, and TXDOT off the table—the agency was sunsetted effective September 2010.
At the Department of Family and Protective Services, the agency that protects children from neglect and abuse, “almost a third of CPS caseworkers quit”http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/documents/about/Presentations/2008-09-24_JointBudget.pdf last year due to low pay and high caseloads. Texas ranks 48th in the nation for a CPS caseworker’s average salary, and Texas CPS caseworkers now carry twice the number of cases as the national average.
At the Department of Aging and Disability Services, the agency charged with care for our most vulnerable, the U.S. Department of Justice demanded a settlement agreement detailing employee hires, required training and basic investment to oversee conclusion of its investigation of abuse, neglect, and even lack of basic care at every single state school for the mentally retarded. In the Austin school alone, last year 70 percent of direct care staff quit due to low pay or were fired.
Even as more and more baby boomers age, Texas ranks 49th in nursing home reimbursement, a number so low as to have caused 60 nursing home owners to leave the state during the past three years.
How did our challenges get so big? What happened to our great state?
Grover Norquist is the famed right-wing ideologue who said his goal was “to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
Coincidently, 25 years ago, Rick Perry first entered the Texas House to deliver Grover Norquist’s philosophy to Texas. Then and there, he and his band of Pit Bulls put Texas on a path to Grover’s Tub—his legacy project of cutting taxes for the wealthy, cutting programs for you and making government work only for a select few.
Now, after a quarter century of government by Grover, Texas is in Grover’s Tub. When leaders value tax cuts over good schools, budget cuts over our future, and de—regulation over common sense, Texas loses.
How does Grover’s tub affect you?
Let’s start with this quote from the Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness, Rick Perry’s business commission on how to make Texas competitive once again:
“Texas is not globally competitive. The state faces a downward spiral in both quality of life and economic competitiveness if it fails to educate more of its growing population (both young and adults) to higher levels of attainment, knowledge and skills. The rate at which educational capital is currently being developed is woefully inadequate.”
If current trends and leadership, the state’s demographer bluntly predicts that the average Texas household income will fall by $6000 by 2040.
So, what to do? Over the next few chapters, we will detail agency by agency the cost of Grover’s Tub. Pass this story around. Pull it up on the Web, then send it to your contact list.
Talk to your PTA or your Rotary Club. Let others know. Ask your hometown newspaper to report what is really happening.
Get involved. Find out the facts. Right now, Texas is in big tub trouble—and it will take all of us to get her out.
Our children, our communities and our future are worth the fight!