We've had the State of the City, we've had the State of the Union, and now it's time for the State of the State, much of which we know about already. I'll skip the preview for now, and just note that you can watch the speech here (or try the direct link), and that Rep. Garnet Coleman will have the Democratic response on his website later today (it will apparently air on News 8 in Austin as well). I'll have my own commentary on it later as well, probably tomorrow. Happy viewing!
UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Rep. Coleman's response may not be on his site right away. I expect to receive a copy of it, and will post it when I do.
UPDATE: And here's the BOR response.
Rep. Garnet Coleman's Response to Governor Rick Perry's State of the StatePosted by Charles Kuffner on February 06, 2007 to The great state of Texas
Hello, I'm Garnet Coleman. I represent House District 147 in the Texas House, I am a Democrat, and I am Chair of the Texas Legislative Study Group. I would like to thank News 8 for this opportunity to respond to Governor Perry's State of the State speech.
The state of our state is strong, because the people of Texas are stronger and more resourceful than anything Governor Perry or I could say. The people of Texas deserve a state government that works as hard for them as they work for their families. Today, I'd like to take a few moments to discuss the things we, your elected officials, must do to move Texas forward for all Texans.
When Texans voted last fall, they made their priorities clear: improve public education in our children's schools, make college affordable for every Texas family, provide access to health coverage for Texas families - especially Texas children - and lower the cost of our electric bills.
Our priorities are about the basics - about the future of the Texas economy, and more importantly, about how that future affects the pocketbook and quality of life for every Texas family that works for a living.
Today, we heard the Governor address issues we agree with and others we disagree with. For example, we're all excited to work with the Governor to help secure funding for cancer research. But when it's time to put your state tax dollars to work for the priorities of most Texans, only the state budget will determine whether our priorities will be met or continue to shortchange the vast majority of Texans.
The budget priorities we've heard discussed so far revolve entirely around property tax cuts. While lowering property taxes is an important priority, the fact is we still don't have adequate funding for our public schools. Instead of gambling on selling the Texas Lottery, the people of Texas deserve greater investments in their budget priorities, including better schools for our children, affordable college for our families, and a healthier Texas.
Texans deserve and have demanded continued improvements in our children's public schools. We must do more to increase teacher pay across the board to attract and retain quality teachers for our classrooms, secure a strong pension and good health benefits for our retired teachers, and keep our textbooks up to date. We also must stop teaching to the test. Twelve years of careful evaluation and classroom study cannot possibly be boiled down to "A, B, C, or none of the above."
Our children deserve better, and the people of Texas have called for a real investment in public education.
We agree that the state should increase student assistance for college, but even more than that, we should eliminate tuition deregulation. We must make college affordable again for all Texas families, because our students deserve the best shot at every opportunity for their future.
Most Texans believe we should have a tomorrow. That's why we had a Texas Tomorrow Fund to help pay for higher education opportunities. The doors to that fund have closed to too many Texans, because of higher tuition rates.
Tuition increases are pricing many students from middle class families out of the opportunity that can only be provided by a college education. A 47% increase in the cost of admittance to the University of Texas at Austin has led to a tuition increase of $2,500 a year for Texas families. But the problem isn't just at UT -- there has been a 54% increase in tuition at UT-Brownsville, a 34% increase in tuition at Texas Tech, and a 49% increase in tuition at the University of Houston.
The simple fact is that all Texans should be able to send their children to college.
Texans believe every Texan should have the opportunity to receive affordable health coverage. I commend the Governor for acknowledging that Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the country, both children and adults. 24.5% of people in Texas do not have health coverage. With the seriousness of that issue, we should not rely on the privatization of the Texas Lottery to fund a limited health insurance program for adults.
In addition, we must closely watch the proposed cuts to Medicaid benefits. The last time the state of Texas cut health benefits, in 2003, hundreds of thousands of children lost their health coverage through the Children's Health Insurance Program. The fastest way to insure the children of Texas is to repeal those policies that caused 200,000 Texas children to lose their health coverage.
And the cuts we've seen in CHIP have lost us $893 million in federal matching funds.
Finally, all Texans should be able to expect truth in taxation, so that our tax dollars go where we expect them to go. The taxes you pay for sporting goods should go to improve state parks. The taxes we pay for the System Benefit Fund should go to help pay for seniors' utility bills. Those taxes have been diverted to other purposes, and it's time those taxes were spent the way they where intended.
We need to invest state dollars to lower utility bills immediately and to increase renewable energy technologies in Texas. Wind energy is good, but we should also invest in solar energy. Texans know how the sun beats down on us - why don't we put it to work for us.
Developing clean and renewable energy technologies like solar and wind power will help answer the state's growing need for additional energy sources and mitigate the need for unhealthy options such as the new coal plants Governor Perry is currently attempting to fast-track to completion - a fast-track that increases health risks for all Texans, including the risk of cancer.
Texans are calling for action on all of these priorities. To date, we've seen too many of our priorities harmed by privatization efforts. Privatization of our public schools. Tuition and electricity deregulation. Private call centers for CHIP and Medicaid. And let's not forget the greatest privatization scheme of them all - the selling of Texas' great land to a Spanish company for the construction of the unwarranted and unwanted Trans-Texas Corridor, and the continued push for toll lanes on every new freeway in Texas.
Instead of learning from these past mistakes, Governor Perry has decided to explore other avenues for privatization: a private school voucher project for Pre-K, and selling the Texas Lottery. In a move he admits will create a billion-dollar budget shortfall and cut money from public education, Governor Perry has called to sell the Texas Lottery. It is flat-out fiscally irresponsible. We need to invest in proven measures of dependable revenue to support Texan's top priorities.
The strength of Texas lies in its people. They are raising their voices to demand the Texas they were promised by Governor Perry when he was first elected Governor four years ago. And even more importantly, they are raising their voices to demand a better Texas they can promise to their children for years to come.
Let's work together to build a better, healthier Texas that moves forward with fairness, equality, and opportunity for all families. If we listen to the voices of its people, we can build a Texas everyone can be proud to call home.
Thank you, and God Bless Texas.