AUSTIN, Texas — Texas has a combined $59 billion available in its checking and savings accounts this session. Still, Gov. Greg Abbott has yet to prioritize that money into any investments the House Democrats see as valuable: increased investment on public education; the expansion of Medicaid in a state with the most uninsured residents in the nation; and the will to pass gun controls that might avoid another massacre like Uvalde.
Texas Republicans prefer to keep government small. What can be privatized in Texas government, has been. What can be cut out of agency budgets, will be. And, more often than not, the Legislature will talk about the major problems the state is facing, then dodge the idea of spending money to create solutions, said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
“If you look back of the last 30 years, you will notice that we have ignored a lot of things,” said Fischer, D-San Antonio, in a Friday news conference. “I say all the time that manana is the busiest day of the week here at the Texas Capitol because we just kick the can down the road. We never address these problems, but we can certainly talk about them.”
A number of Democratic groups within the House – the House Democratic Caucus, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, Mexican-American Legislative Caucus – shared their response to Abbott’s State of the State speech held at a private venue in San Marcos on Thursday night. Fischer said Abbott had missed the boat on the opportunity to make important, once-in-a-generation spending decisions with the unprecedented budget surplus the state will be able to spend this year.
“We have a once-in-a-generational opportunity to make smart investments, strategic decision,” Fischer said. “So before we squander (this money) on pet projects and tax cuts that don’t touch everyone in Texas, we ought to fix the things that impact us all. That is what Texas Democrats want to do this session. We want to invest in Texas.”
Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have focused their commitment to cut property taxes for homeowners and certain inventory taxes for businesses. Democrats also want to leverage the budget to make sure money is spent equitably, looking to decisions that will benefit all Texans in all circumstances.
“We’re going to look north to south. We’re not going to be blinded by ZIP codes,” Fischer said. “We’re not going to be blinded by demographics. We’re going to be behind what’s right. And we’re going to make those smart investments. The Democrats have the capability, and certainly the bandwidth, to be able to do that.”
Other group leaders also spoke. Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, spoke of his group’s preference to focus on per-pupil funding in public schools, a point that was echoed by Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus. Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, noted Abbott’s speech said little about maternal health care.
“I am disappointed and concerned that there was no recommended action to address our unacceptably high rate of maternal deaths in a state where one out of four women of childbearing age has no insurance and where more than 50% of the births are Medicaid births,” said Howard, chair of the bipartisan House Women’s Health Caucus. “Last session, this legislature passed, and the governor signed, a bill increasing postpartum Medicaid coverage from two months to six months.”
That was an effort to save the lives of Texas moms, Howard said. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare has yet to approve that extension. That, combined with the fact many families will be leaving the Medicaid rolls with the end of the declared pandemic, have made the situation even more urgent.
“Time is of the essence,” Howard said. “Waiting until later in the legislative session is not in the best interest of healthy Texas moms and healthy Texas babies. We need immediate action.”
Hinojosa also pressed for raising the age for the purchase of long guns, like those used in the Robb Elementary mass shooting.
"We stand in solidarity with the families who lost loved ones, in support of common-sense gun safety legislation," Hinojosa said. "In particular, a bill to raise the age to buy an assault-style weapon, from 18 to 21. Raise the age to 21 for the 21 lives lost at Robb Elementary."