As Texas House and Senate conferees worked this past week to finalize the state budget, most legislators chose to ignore the state’s many neglected needs and focus on shortsighted tax cuts.
Tax cut packages ranged from $4.6 billion in the Senate to $4.9 billion in the House. At best, they mean current low levels of funding for public services and programs will continue for years to come, leaving the most vulnerable Texans to pay the price.
What would happen in a worst-case scenario, if an economic downturn occurs? No one would propose raising taxes during a recession, so tax cuts now could equal budget cuts later.
Imagine if our legislators decided to invest the same amount set aside for tax cuts — or even some significant part of that — into public services that help Texans with disabilities lead independent lives or that protect young and elderly Texans from harm and neglect.
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For example, the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) serves Texans with disabilities and children with developmental delays such as autism.
The budget proposals for 2016-17 create an unnecessary trade-off. The Senate proposes to fund only one of the two kinds of autism services from DARS, for 985 children per year, while the House proposal would serve 719 children a year with both service types.
But budget hearings earlier this year showed that the need for autism services is much larger than what the state currently addresses.
Considering most private insurance plans impose limits on intensive autism treatment services, why are tax cuts a priority over providing autism services for significantly more children? These services would help thousands of children lead more independent and successful lives.
Another area where legislators could make a significantly larger commitment is in reducing the caseloads of Child Protective Services workers.
CPS workers are the only option for making sure Texas children are in safe and loving homes — there is no private option for that.
With more funding, the Department of Family and Protective Services could hire more CPS caseworkers and reduce the number of children assigned to each caseworker. This would greatly improve the outcomes for children.
Unfortunately, the House and Senate proposals would provide only enough funding to keep caseloads at the 2015 levels, which are already higher than the Child Welfare League of America recommended caseloads.
If legislators were serious about ensuring that more children in dangerous situations receive the attention and care that they need, we would hear less about tax cuts and more about manageable caseloads.
Legislators who claim that tax cuts will stimulate the economy are overlooking the fundamentals of economic prosperity.
Tax cuts will leave our classrooms overcrowded, our colleges unaffordable, our parks deprived, our roads in disrepair and other public services neglected, which will neither spur economic growth nor provide our communities with the resources to flourish.
If an economic downturn occurs, the tax cuts of today will leave our future legislators with only harmful options, such as cutting funding to public services.
Why would we leave the many challenges facing Texas for our children to fix, when we can get started on these very real issues now?
Will Francis is the steering committee co-chair of Texas Forward (www.txforward.org) and government relations director for the National Association of Social Workers — Texas Chapter.