Overview: State financial aid faces cuts; Capitol guards will carry M4 semi-automatic rifles...


State financial aid faces cuts

On Monday, The Dallas Morning News reported that state-funded financial aid for college students is set to drastically decrease for the upcoming year in light of the impending budget cuts.

The TEXAS grant program was established in 1999 and currently provides aid for about 113,000 Texas students. Under the proposed cuts only one third of TEXAS grant applicants who apply for the grants would receive them.

Tuition at both public and private universities across the state has continued to increase while, at the same time, funding becomes less accessible. Currently, only 28 percent of Texans hold a college degree, one of the lowest rates in the country, and the state has a vested interest in making higher education accessible to every citizen.

Texans should have a right to pursue a college degree, especially considering the drastic impact that a degree can have on one’s life. Even recent conservative estimates have calculated that over the course of a lifetime, a college graduate will earn about $280,000 more than a non-graduate. Current Texas residents deserve the chance to earn a college diploma without accumulating a lifetime of debt.

Investment in higher education also has long-term benefits. An educated populace makes Texas an even more attractive location for businesses. As emerging industries place greater importance on education and training, a degree will become an even more necessary component of a qualified job applicant.

While the expected cuts are in many ways unavoidable, the Legislature should consider the consequences of further reducing financial aid, both on the current generation of college-bound Texans, and for the long-term health of the state.

Capitol guards will carry M4 semi-automatic rifles

Students interning at the Capitol will notice a slight aesthetic change when they return from the Labor Day vacation — semi-automatic rifles.

Part of a package of enhanced security measures in response to a January shooting, some state troopers around the Capitol now carry M4 semi-automatic rifles instead of .357 magnum handguns, according to The Daily Texan.

We worry how visitors to one of the city’s top tourist spots will respond to such intimidating weaponry, and we question the necessity of such a visible show of force.
“We hope the sight of the guns will help people feel safer,” Lisa Block, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said of the new weapons.

But state troopers have carried visible firearms around the Capitol for years, so the sight of guns is nothing new. While an M4 semi-automatic rifle looks more foreboding than a .357 magnum, that wouldn’t deter someone irrational enough to threaten the Capitol in the first place.

X-ray machines and bomb-sniffing dogs are reasonable security measures that can make Capitol workers and visitors feel safe — without making the building feel like an armory.

Trimming the tourism fund

Gubernatorial candidates Gov. Rick Perry and Bill White have both identified the state‘s tourism fund, which supports advertising and marketing to promote state tourism, as a program that can be cut to reduce the projected $18 million state budget shortfall.

The program, established in 1994, is funded by one-half of a percent of state hotel and motel tax revenue. Last year the tourism office spent more than $22 million to advertise Texas tourism throughout the country, according to documents White gave to The Associated Press.

White recently announced that, if elected, he would eliminate the fund; a drastic proposal in an effort to help close the budget gap. Perry, meanwhile, proposed cutting $6 million from the program.

Given the current economic situation, budget cuts are unavoidable. The next governor will need to prioritize state programs and make cuts accordingly.
However, while it is prudent to cut the tourism program’s funding, it should not be eliminated entirely.

Texas tourism is already disadvantaged because of the economic recession, but eliminating the fund would place an even greater burden on the already suffering industry. Moreover, the fund is expected to bring the state $60 million during the next two years.

Tourism brings money not only to the hospitality industry but also to restaurants, retail shops and hundreds of other businesses across the state where tourists will spend money. Ultimately, tourism bolsters the state economy, through both direct revenue and taxes.

While this may not be a priority in the immediate future, tourism should remain a part of Texas’ long-term economic plan.