Economic Stabilization Fund

State Sen. Wendy Davis speaks with with Evan Smith, The Texas Tribune CEO and editor-in-chief, at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday, Sept. 20.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, the Democratic candidate in the upcoming gubernatorial election, first received attention when she filibustered $5.4 billion in cuts to the Texas education system during the 2011 legislative session. Since announcing her bid for governor, Davis has structured her campaign around the improvement of the Texas education system, and Texas liberals have branded her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, as an anti-education “insider.” But if Davis’ proposals seem too good to be true, it’s because they are.

While both candidates aim to expand existing opportunities for high school students to gain college credit and increase high school and college graduation rates, Davis and Abbott diverge on other issues. Abbott’s education plan focuses on improving pre-kindergarten through third grade by implementing what he termed “gold standard” programs with incentivized funding based on standardized testing and increasing state support of research universities for a combined cost to the state of a modest $198 million — $158 million for pre-K and $40 million in research grants. By comparison, Davis proposes introducing universal full-day pre-kindergarten, raising teacher pay, reducing standardized testing, fully funding the college educations of an unknown number of students through state grants and pushing Texas colleges to attain Tier One status, all while becoming more affordable. These proposals won Davis the endorsement of the Texas State Teachers Association at the end of August. While Davis’ ambition is both evident and commendable regarding the improvement of education in Texas, the feasibility and practicality of implementation remains unspecified.

Davis would have Texas voters believe that the reason these measures are not already in place is because of “insiders” working against the Texas education system. Davis even asserted that Abbott was one such insider via Twitter on Aug. 28. The reason that Davis’ proposals, revolutionary as they are, are not already in place is simple: The state cannot afford them.

Although Davis has repeatedly failed to put a price tag on her proposals, despite the urgings of her constituents and opponent, independent researchers have not. W. Steven Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said a conservative estimate for Davis’ universal pre-K program alone is $2 billion. Davis has stated on the record that she plans to pay for her proposals with the $4 billion she believes the state could gain by cutting corporate tax loopholes or with Texas’ Economic Stabilization Fund, colloquially known as the ESF or rainy day fund, which Davis projects to contain $8.6 billion by the end of the 2015 fiscal year.  Half of the funds directly at Davis’ fingertips would be depleted through the execution of only one of her proposals. Once Davis spends the rest of the money, the execution of her other proposals lies in the hands of another lawmaking body entirely: the Texas State Legislature. 

Access to the ESF can only be secured by a two-thirds vote in the Texas House of Representatives. To further complicate matters, Davis’ plan to fund her proposals operates on projections for the end of the 2015 fiscal year. The Legislature doesn’t meet in 2016, delaying the House vote on this issue until three years into Davis’ term, unless Davis plans to call an emergency legislative session for a non-emergency. Even then, it is unlikely that a Democratic governor could secure the votes needed to access the ESF or raise taxes, her only other option for funding in an overwhelmingly “red” state. To be blunt, Davis’ ideas are impossibilities, at least for the present. And nobody knows this more than Davis. The Davis campaign remained either unwilling or unable to answer questions regarding the details of executing her proposals after five days of ongoing communication. 

As a Texan, it is irresponsible to vote for something that can never be a reality, simply because it’s a good idea. Let me be clear on one thing: Davis’ education proposals cannot become a reality. The money is not there and neither is the will of the legislature. But this should not be news, and I should not be the person telling Texas voters this. Senator Davis has repeatedly refused to put a price tag on her proposals, and she has misdirected her constituents to believe the impossible. Senator Davis’ proposals are excellent ideas, but she lied to Texas voters when she said she could execute them, and that is not the governor Texans need.

Smith is a history junior from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @claireseysmith

Gov. Rick Perry talks about fixed four-year tuition rates during his State of the State address at the Capitol in January.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Gov. Rick Perry touted Texas as “stronger than ever”  in his State of State Address and called on legislators to begin using the state’s largely untouched Rainy Day Fund as a way to start making much-needed improvements to state infrastructure.

In his address yesterday, Perry said the decisions made in the 2011 legislative session continue to boost Texas into economic prosperity, with more than half a million private sector jobs created in the last two years. He spoke of creating tax relief for Texans and of making higher education more affordable for the entire state.  

“We led the nation out of recession and into recovery, and remain the nation’s prime destination for employers and job seekers alike,” Perry said in his address. “In classrooms, on assembly lines, in laboratories, on farms and in office buildings, hard-working Texans are today turning their dreams into realities.”

Perry said he supported using $3.7 million of the Economic Stabilization Fund, or Rainy Day Fund, for a one-time investment in Texas infrastructure issues such as water and transportation. The fund will hold about $12 billion in 2014.

“The Rainy Day Fund was created to ensure we had a sufficient amount in reserve in case of disaster, and to ensure Texas maintains its strong credit rating,” Perry said. “While we cannot — and will not — raid the fund to meet ongoing expenses, we also shouldn’t accumulate billions more than necessary.”

Perry said he supported a bill to give universities in South Texas access to the state’s Permanent University Fund, which is a public endowment that supports select universities in the University of Texas System and Texas A&M University System.

“Today, the students of South Texas are able to stay closer to home to earn their college degrees,” Perry said. “This area of the state is critical to our state’s future, and our investment in the children of South Texas will be returned a thousandfold.”

A protester stood up and interrupted Perry’s speech to express concern for the lack of available health care in Texas and was immediately escorted out of the building. Perry decided last year not to expand the Medicaid program for the state and said again in his Tuesday address that the state does not plan to set up an exchange program for health insurance.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said Perry’s decision not to expand Medicaid is neither socially nor economically responsible. 

“What it would do for the economic development of our state is pretty significant, if not phenomenal,” Watson said. “But yet, almost because of disliking who won in an election, we’re not going to focus on something that will make citizens of this state healthier and will make the economy healthier.”

Perry said he agreed with President Barack Obama’s statement in his second inaugural address about pulling forward as a united force, regardless of individual differences, and said he hopes to implement the same mindset in the state of Texas moving forward.

“I’m proud that Texas is a place where anyone can make a difference, regardless of where you’re from or how you might spell your last name,” Perry said. “We are a diverse tapestry of cultures, faiths and bloodlines, but we are bound by a common spirit and a common lineage that’s remarkable for a state so big.”