Addressing about 15 persons at the Corner Bistro, the legislator from Longview said the GOP-dominated Legislature passed a budget which wasn’t really balanced in the last session. He further condemned the way his fellow Republicans treated Democrats during the redistricting process.
Simpson also addressed forthcoming issues ranging from state aid to schools to property taxes.
Simpson, who has no opponent for reelection in November and begins his second term in January, called for “passing an honest budget with the right priorities.” In the last session, he contended, “We boasted about passing a balanced budget, but we didn’t.”
He said the budget was technically balanced by such maneuvers as deferring about $5 billion in education funds to school districts until the next biennium, and by only accounting for 18 months of Medicaid expenses, instead of 24. He also observed that while legislators said they didn’t raise taxes, “we did raise lots of fees.”
Simpson called for “zero-based” budgeting, adding “We need to put education ahead of corporate welfare.” He criticized the state’s granting of $21 million to the giant Apple computer firm to attract businesses to the state, saying “we’re not creating jobs” with those funds.
The way to attract business to Texas, Simpson argued, is having a low number of regulations, a “level playing field” for businesses, and an “educated workforce.”
The legislator also said the state must live within its means.
If the state continues on its current path financially, it would have to raise taxes to pay debts, he said. He added that Texas has run out of money to pave roads, and that state spending tripled during the past decade, while the population rose only 16 percent.
Thus, the legislature must “cease relying on debt and unfunded future obligations,” Simpson asserted. And it must dip into its “rainy-day fund” in its next session, he said.
Another challenge facing the new legislature, said Simpson, is redrawing political boundaries.
“We did it (in the last session) in a way that the court found faulty. . .There may have been discrimination involved,” he said.
Simpson said Republicans gave Democrats maps of the proposed redistricting only two days before the legislature voted on the plan, and “I fear we did to them as we think they did to us” in the past. He called for taking “the high road.”
The state may have to pay for lawsuits filed against the redistricting plan approved in the last session, and the GOP should have called in Democratic legislators and “fixed it. . .We knew they were going to take it to the courts,” he said.
Without mentioning their names, he said Speaker of the House Joe Strauss and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst were responsible for “disheartening” actions in the redistricting process.
Simpson also said the legislature faces “funding our schools equitably, and giving more freedom to” parents, administrators and teachers.
He said that if a school district is “irresponsible, the state actually gives you more money,” and that six lawsuits are pending over the state’s method of education funding.
He predicted the legislature will wait for a special session to deal with the matter “after the courts have figured it out.
“We’ve abdicated our responsibility,” he said.
Simpson also said vouchers will be proposed for education and “sound like a good idea,” but that he opposes using public money for private institutions. He said that would keep private schools “free of regulations.”
“One of the problems with our public school system is that we’ve harnessed them with so many reins,” Simpson said. “We spend about 47 days a year testing. That’s incredible.
“We’ve just increased the intensity of the testing. We need to give more time to teaching,” he declared.
Simpson also said proceeds from the state lottery only support “about two and a quarter days of public education,” and that government support for a lottery is wrong.
He further predicted a probable fight in the State Board of Education over textbook selection, and said that “school districts ought to be in charge of that.”
In a slightly related matter, Simpson called for a return to “personal responsibility,” saying that when he was growing up, the government did not take breakfasts to schools for students when school was not in session.
He asked why funds should not be used for teaching, while letting families feed their own children.
“You take care of your own. You take care of your parents when they’re old. You take care of your children when they’re young,” he said. “We have given up those responsibilities to the state that we used to handle ourselves.”
Simpson also said he had a bill during the last legislative session to deal with property taxes, “but I didn’t think I could handle it as a freshman” legislator.
He said moving from property taxes to sales taxes would be “a much fairer form of taxation” and “I am studying it.”
Simpson also said that State Rep Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), who has represented Upshur County for several years but does not have the county in his new legislative district, would make “an excellent Speaker” of the House, but stopped short of endorsing Hughes in his race for Speaker against incumbent Straus.