From the Senator's Desk . . .
January 29, 2009

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 incomes increased.

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh,

"Grover’s Tub:

'The Real State Of The State'"

(Updated April 2009)

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. 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.

In education, we now rank 46th in SAT scores and dead last in graduation rates.  Only 64 percent of ninth graders graduate 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.

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 1100 percent interest rates on pay day loans on every corner in towns like my own.

Contrary to what Perry told us in Austin, Texas lost 25,700 jobs in December. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, an additional 220,000 Texans filed for unemployment insurance in the last eight months of 2008. In the next few months of 2009, Texas will lose another 110,000. Perry was warned by our office in 2007 to prepare Texas for a recession, and instead of leading on the issue, Perry returned funds in unemployment insurance accounts to employers, and said he decided to let the market take care of it. The unemployment insurance account is now short $750 million.

Perry's highway department is out of money. In Perry's world, business interests are his base, yet by 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.

Along the Texas Coast, more than 225,000 homeowners in the hurricane zone hold $68 billion worth of insurance policies for which no funds exist to back the liability.

At the Department of Family and Protective Services, the agency that protects children from neglect and abuse, almost a third of CPS caseworkers quit 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 recently expanded its investigation of abuse, neglect, and even lack of basic care to include 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 happened.

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." 

Coincidentally, it was 25 years ago when Rick Perry first entered the Texas House. 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.

In 2003, facing a $10 billion budget deficit, Perry had the same post-9/11 options as every governor in America—raise revenues, delay payments, tighten belts, cut programs—or  some of each. His choice was to cut 300,000 children from CHIP and another 500,000 from Medicaid, then travel to the Bahamas with Grover Norquist to brag about it.

How does Grover's tub affect you? Here's a 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.  Texas also needs an innovation-based economy in all the state's regions that can fully employ a more capable workforce.  It must generate more external research funding, and commercialize ideas and intellectual property at a volume substantially greater than currently taking place."

Instead of showing leadership by investing in the state's future, In 2005, challenged by the Supreme Court to reform school finance, Perry cut taxes for the wealthy, shift taxes to the middle class, and put schools in such a bind that many are now facing bankruptcy.  If these trends continue, the state's demographer bluntly predicted that the average Texas household income will fall by $6000 by 2040.

So, what to do?  Too few Texans know what has happened in Austin. Over the next few chapters, we will detail agency by agency the tale 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. 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!

Eliot Shapleigh



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