With the regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature finished, there are a number of decisions made by the current legislature that are positive steps forward for the future of our state. However, there were a number of failures on the legislative front; and important state issues were left unresolved.
On the positive side, most noteworthy was the long overdue recognition by our legislators that “one size doesn’t fit all” when it comes to educating our children. As Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission, I pushed for greater cooperation among school districts, local community colleges and technical institutes such as Texas State Technical College (TSTC). I am pleased with Sen. Lucio’s bill to prevent high school dropouts through career and technical education partnerships, Rep. Pitts’ legislation to encourage more vocational education opportunities, and Rep. Aycock’s HB5 to return more control to local school districts, allow for multiple pathways to a high school diploma, and set the stage to end the failed “teaching to the test” mindset foisted by Austin and Washington elites on an unsuspecting public. Texas must embrace the principle of a “hand up, not a handout” and encourage a common sense approach to public education with skills training as a pathway to jobs for young Texans.
Also, Rep. Allan Ritter deserves credit for addressing the serious shortage of water with a long term plan to provide for our state’s complex infrastructure needs.
However, the House failed to pass Sen. Kevin Eltife’s proposed Constitutional Amendment to enact term limits for statewide elected officials. As former Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission, I am convinced that two terms for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General are enough. Texans deserve selfless leadership from our public servants, and we should strive to limit potential conflicts of interest between career politicians, special interests and Austin insiders. Texans shouldn’t be subject to broken campaign promises, and deserve to vote directly on term limits.
Having experience in the private venture capital business, I don't believe either the Obama Administration or the Perry Administration should be using taxpayer dollars to pick "winners and losers" in the public venture capital business. I was disappointed that the legislature continued to fund the governor's venture capital fund, the Emerging Technology Fund. It needs to go.
Moving forward, Texas still needs to address three particularly glaring areas that have continued to be neglected or unresolved this session: school finance, property taxes and transportation.
While Public Education is one of the few obligations clearly assigned to the legislature under the Texas Constitution, Texas has operated under a fundamentally flawed school finance scheme for decades. As Chairman of Texans Against Robin Hood Taxes, I fought against the wealth redistribution scheme originally pushed by Gov. Ann Richards. Today, “Robin Hood” takes $1.1 billion in local property taxes from the 374 so–called “property–rich” districts and redistributes it across the state. This outdated program should be replaced by a fairer and more equitable system, with local property taxes remaining under local control.
It also is time for the legislature to address property tax reform, an issue I have been involved in as Chairman of the Governor's Task Force on Appraisal Reform.
While Texas used to have a great transportation system, Austin has failed to address our state’s long-term transportation needs. Public roads are an essential state service, but the gas tax has not been adjusted for inflation for over 20 years, and half the state’s gasoline tax revenues are diverted to other expenditures. Rather than sentence generations of Texans into debt, our state should develop a coherent strategy to put in place a pay–as–you–go transportation system.
Now is the time to seriously consider the type of bold new leadership needed to move Texas forward. As Governor, I would appoint a blue ribbon commission of business and civic leaders from around the state to examine all our state departments and agencies, identify savings and efficiencies, and implement proactive reforms through a policy-driven agenda of executive actions, legislative recommendations and common sense solutions. Having led a federal agency under Reagan, I saw firsthand the effectiveness of such an approach.
Let's bring Texans together to find common sense solutions to the problems facing our state. Effective leadership is more than talking points and sound bites. It involves the hard work of developing sound policy ideas and then building coalitions to get those policies implemented. We have done that this legislative session on public education reform. Working together, we can do something similar on other important state issues as well.
Tom Pauken is the former Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission and a Republican Candidate for Governor.