Democratic Senators Call For Rainy Day Funds To Restore Education Cuts, Expand Medicaid

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On the eve of the bill-filing deadline last Friday, four Democratic State Senators — Wendy Davis, Rodney Ellis, Eddie Lucio Jr, and Jose Rodriguez — stood up for our common values and some straight-up good government by filing legislation to tap the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund and use the money to restore cuts to education and financial aid, and expand Medicaid.

Together, the two bills, SB1377 and SB1378, use the $12 billion dollars to restore funding that was cut in 2011. The bills draw $4 billion from the fund and add it to the Foundation School Program, draws $500 million for TEXAS Grants and other financial aid programs, and uses $50.4 million to expand Medicaid.

Best of all, the voters agree. A poll commissioned by the Texas State Teacher's Association found overwhelming support amongst Republican and Democratic voters for using the RDF to fund education. As the graphic at left shows, restoring funding for education outpaces support for funding water and road projects.

Bottom line: Texans want the Rainy Day Fund to be spent, and education is their top priority for where it should go.

Restoring funding to our public education should be top priority for the Legislature this year. Educating a strong home-grown workforce is critical to the short- and long-term economic success of Texas. Our Texas children must not be short-changed.

It's clear now that the Republican Legislature didn't need to cut $5.4 billion dollars from public education last session — we ended up with more than enough revenue to maintain the 2009 funding formula and provide for enrollment growth.

We need to fight back against using the 2011 public education funding formulas as the “new normal” that ignores two years' worth of enrollment growth — i.e. fails to account for the new students who were not factored into education funding in 2011 — and go back to the 2009 formula, and start building again from there.

This is a winning issue for Democrats, so it's great to see four of our Democratic state senators standing up for our values and calling for education funding, TEXAS Grants, and a Medicaid expansion.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Republican Senator Dan Patrick filed SB 1410, the largest single voucher program we've seen this session, which serves as a means of letting businesses take a 15% cut on their franchise taxes and letting insurance companies take a tax credit against what they owe the state. In one fell swoop Patrick is taking revenue from our state coffers and using it to subsidize corporations by giving them a tax break that defunds public education. That's what conservatives stand for: massive tax breaks on the backs of our public school children and teachers, all with no accountability.

These bills offer a compelling choice for how to address the needs of our growing public school population, and how to train the next generation of Texas workers to compete in a 21st Century economy.

It's a simple choice: folks are either with Senators Davis, Ellis, Lucio, and Rodriguez in their fight to restore funding and put Texas kids first, or they're with Dan Patrick's efforts to provide corporate subsidies that further rob our Texas schoolchildren of the chance to achieve their fullest potential.

The full release sent by Senator Ellis's office is below the jump.  

Senators: Tap Rainy Day Fund to Restore Cuts to Schools, TEXAS Grants & Expand Medicaid

(Austin, Texas)-Senators Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) today filed SB 1377 and SB 1378, legislation that would tap the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to restore devastating cuts to education and financial aid from last session, and to pay for a down-payment to expand Medicaid.  

The senators stated emphatically that this funding is not a “recurring expense” but simply filling in the giant holes dug by last session's cuts.  In fact, the failure to restore funding permanently enshrines those deep cuts as the new funding baseline for our children's schools.

SB 1377 and SB 1378 tap the nearly $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to fill the gaps caused by draconian budget cuts in 2011.  Both SB 1377 and SB 1378 draw $4 billion from the fund and add it to the Foundation School Program.  SB 1378 also draws $500 million for TEXAS Grants and other financial aid programs, and $50.4 million to expand Medicaid.

“Last session, the Rainy Day Fund, our schools and our children were held hostage to politics,” said Ellis.  “It is long past time to use our savings and restore funding. We repeatedly hear that the cuts made to our kids' schools were only done due to the historic shortfall we faced last session.  Well the emergency has passed, and filling in the giant hole created by the legislature will be a one-time expense to get us back to where were before the cuts. So let's be clear, fixing a mistake is not 'new spending', it's simply redeeming our promises to our schoolchildren and parents.”

“The leadership's failure to take responsibility to assist their own school districts is an indication that they have turned their backs on Texas families,” said Davis.  “Our schools are hurting. While they're struggling to make ends meet and are forced to lay off teachers and consider tax and fee hikes, the state has been sitting on millions of dollars that rightly belong to them.”

“Education is enshrined in the Texas Constitution,” said Rodriguez. “If we can put Rainy Day funds toward physical infrastructure, as has been proposed for water and transportation, which I support, we certainly can use our savings to shore up our most vital resource, education.”

“Throughout my legislative career I have worked to improve the education of Texas children,” said Lucio.  “I am proud to joint-author legislation to better fund Texas public schools.  Expanding Medicaid just makes fiscal sense.  Today, too many uninsured Texans use emergency rooms as their only source of treatment.  This is a burden on our states' hospitals.  The positive impact of today's legislation will be felt most in the Valley.  The Valley population is growing, yet the region has substantially higher poverty rates than Texas or the United States as a whole.  Expanding access to health care for more Texans will also decrease the costs insurance consumers pay in premiums.”

Last session, the legislature cut $5.4 billion from Texas schools and slashed funding for financial aid programs like TEXAS Grants.  In real terms, those cuts harmed Texas schoolchildren and families:

* Texas now ranks 49th in spending on public schools, and spends $3,000 less per student than the national average. Mississippi spends more per student than Texas.

* Texas now spends about $66,000 less per elementary school classroom than the national average.

* Statewide, the number of elementary classes exceeding the 22-student class size cap set in law soared from 2,238 to 8,479.

* Overall, 25,000 school district employees lost their jobs, 11,000 of them teachers.  

* Texas teachers now earn $8,200 less than those in other states, dropping Texas from 31st to 38th in average teacher pay.

The $50.4 million for Medicaid expansion will implement a Legislative Budget Board recommendation and provide the state's share of the cost of expanding coverage to the maximum extent allowed under the Affordable Care Act.  The Legislative Budget Board estimates that Medicaid Expansion will cost $50.4 million in GR for this biennium and draw down $4 billion in federal match.   For this expansion, Texas will receive a 100 percent match for the first three years and the match will be gradually reduced to 90 percent of funding thereafter.

Last session, those in charge set a precedent: the Rainy Day Fund could not be used even under the direst fiscal circumstances.  Texas could not address an immediate, obvious crisis just in case another, bigger crisis came down the road.  Of course, the legislature had voted to use virtually the entire fund four times in the past, including:

* In 1991, the Legislature spent the entire balance on public schools ($28.8 million).

* In 1993, the Legislature spent the entire balance on criminal justice matters ($197 million).

* In 2003, the Legislature appropriated “almost every penny” of the balance the Comptroller forecasted through 2005.  In fact, $295 million was taken from the fund to create the Governor's Texas Enterprise Fund.

* In 2005, the Legislature appropriated $1.9 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, using almost every penny of the $2 billion available.  Money was taken from the fund to create the Governor's Emerging Technology Fund.

* In 2007, Governor Rick Perry even proposed using the balance in the Rainy Day Fund to pay for more tax cuts for special interests.

This session, the same leaders who forbid using the Rainy Day Fund to pay for schools and health care have proposed taking $1 billion out to pay for new roads and another $2 billion to fund the state water plan.

According to a recent Frederickpolls research poll for the Texas State Teachers Association, the vast majority of Texans support tapping the Rainy Day Fund to repair the damage we did to our children's schools and invest in the future.

“I know that Texas faces a severe water shortage as we move deeper in the 21st century, and we have a funding crisis in transportation,” said Ellis.  “But the bottom line is if we are now allowed to use the Rainy Day Fund as intended, we need to put our kids and families on equal footing with our cars and creeks.  Let's restore the cuts to our children's schools and fulfill our promise to our kids.”



About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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