Senator Rodríguez’s statement on the Senate budget

Austin – State Sen. José Rodríguez released the following statement on S.B. 1, the Senate’s version of the state budget, which passed the Senate unanimously today:

Passing a budget is our basic responsibility, one that none of us take lightly. It is for this reason that I vote now in favor of it, although I do have some serious concerns. This is a start, and that’s what I’m voting for, so that we may move the process forward and make it better. 

Three cycles after the draconian cuts of the 82nd Legislature, we have made incremental progress. However, we have the ability to do much more. 

This session, as last session and the session before, we have the means to make up lost ground. 

Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of this body prioritizes tax cuts over education and other essential government functions.

That is why I voted against SB 17, and against SB 2, just to give two examples of bills that will 1) limit the funds available for future school funding, and 2) limit local government’s ability to set priorities and respond to emergencies – especially so for rural counties, as we heard repeatedly. I plan to vote against SB 9, which would set a new, even more stringent limit on spending. Given how tight we’ve been, I’m not sure what policy purpose is served by tying the hands of future legislatures.

The state’s “Rainy Day Fund” continues to grow.  We now have more than $10 billion and are estimated to have almost $12 billion by the end of the 2018-19 biennium.  We should be using the Rainy Day Fund to ensure that we’re adequately funding our schools and health and human services.  

The basic allotment provides for per-student funding of $5,140 in the 2018-19 biennium. This is the same amount as the last biennium, so we’re falling behind. 

We also are cutting our higher education institutions – $332 million from universities, state colleges, and technical schools.  

Further, the federal budget proposal from the White House has major cuts in financial aid and research. So Texas higher education may take a double hit. 

In both cases, quality educational development is economic development, a proven way for nations – and states – to prosper. 

We are not spending enough on health care, and it’s unclear how we will pay for the Medicaid shortfall left by last session’s underfunding of almost $2.6 billion. 

For DPS “border security,” the agency is allocated almost $500 million under the Secure Texas heading. Adding up other funds, we’re looking at another $800 million for the biennium. 

Members should remember, and the public should be aware, that what happened during the “border security” vote in 2015 was that we took DPS out of the Highway Fund, and placed it in General Revenue. 

The majority voted to do that despite a lack of data then, and now. There are as many drugs, gangs and guns in Texas communities as there were before this started, because it never was a border issue.  If that had been the choice, without the rhetoric of “border security,” I don’t think members would have been as willing to set DPS against education, which is what we now face. 

I will continue advocating for education funding, for health care, for higher education, and for other special programs that make a difference in Texans’ lives, from the relatively small amount of $5 million for Relocation Services Contractors who play such an important role for people with disabilities to funding for the Adult Career Education grant program that is so important to my community to fully funding the critical Texas-New Mexico water lawsuit, as we did last session. 

With all that, this budget has some good things. CPS is funded at $430 million, which includes $300 million for $1,000 raises for 828 additional caseworkers. That is not enough, according to experts and the agency itself, but it’s a huge step forward. It’s not a huge line item, but $25 million for school broadband access, which will help draw down hundreds of millions in federal funds, is a great investment. This budget provides $244 million for mental health care, which includes $64 to eliminate wait lists for community mental health services. 

All of these items are critical needs, but not all critical needs are addressed by SB 1.

I am voting for this budget with the understanding that it is a start. We have the resources to build upon this start.

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José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; Veteran Affairs and Border Security; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs (Vice Chair). 

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