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Democrats Must Stand Firm on Budget and Restore Education Funds

by: Katherine Haenschen

Fri May 17, 2013 at 08:33 AM CDT

Democrats must stand firm in this last round of budget negotiations and use their leverage to restore $4 billion to public education.

A little Democratic obstinacy can go a long way in restoring the draconian cuts to public education meted out by the 2011 legislature. So far, House and Senate Democrats have held firm during budget negotiations on restoring as much of the $5.4 billion cut from public education as possible. Thanks to our picking up several seats in the 2012 election cycle, there are now 55 Democrats in the House, which provides our party actual leverage.

The key here is Governor Rick Perry's desire to fund the state's new water plan -- an urgent and critical priority to be sure, as is public education. 100 votes in the House are needed to tap the Rainy Day Fund -- the proposed mechanism to fund the water plan -- and since several Republicans are balking at spending money on basic civilization, even more Democratic votes are needed to pass it.

This leverage has enabled and finally empowered our Democratic caucus to stand firm on restoring cuts to education. A deal was within reach earlier this week, when Governor Rick Perry reportedly tried to peel away education funding.

Democrats held firm, and now there is a strong chance that Democrats can force the restoration of $4 billion dollars in cuts to public education. This is the most additional funding for education on the table to date this session.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

Rep. Sylvester Turner, emerging from a caucus of House Democrats, had blamed Republicans for reneging on a deal that had called for putting an extra $3.9 billion back into public schools, which absorbed historic spending cuts two years ago.

"For anyone to represent that Democrats have changed their position or asked for more is absolutely not true," Turner said. He went on to accuse Perry of swooping in late and telling Republicans not to vote for an agreed-upon plan because too much was being spent on reversing public school cuts.

Perry wants $1.8 billion in tax cuts and a new $2 billion water fund, but money is running tight and time is running out. One $500 million bump the House already approved for classrooms, Turner said, was now being targeted to pay for highway projects instead.

The message to Democrats in the House and Senate today is crystal clear: stand firm and restore $4 billion in education.

It's our party's top priority this session, and poll after poll makes clear that restoring education funding is the voters' top priority as well.

The reason why Democrats worked so hard to win elections in 2012 -- to elect new Democrats to the House and re-elect Senator Wendy Davis -- was to force our way into holding a seat at the table, to make the Legislature focus on the urgent needs of the people of Texas.

The $4 billion on the table today presents a real and rare chance to use our political power to do some tremendous policy good. Democrats must not squander this opportunity. Restore this funding through the budget, and make sure every Texas child has the educational resources to succeed.

That's what we sent y'all to the Legislature to do, and we expect nothing less.


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