DALLAS, Texas — “My comments during the budget debate of the 2013 session are being taken out of context for political purposes,” former state Sen. Tommy Williams told the Houston Chronicle on September 5, 2014. He was wrist-slapping Democratic challenger for Lt. Governor, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte for mischaracterizing her Republican opponent, Sen. Dan Patrick.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Williams intervened after Van de Putte sent out an August 28 email blasting Patrick on a three-year old legislative budget. She also twisted the intent of Patrick’s later decisions during the 2013 legislative session. Williams buried any political hatchets with the GOP nominee for Lt. Governor Patrick, recently speaking out on his behalf.
In fact, Williams was quoted by the Houston Chronicle as saying, “Let me set the record straight: as chairman of Education and a member of the Finance Committee Senator Dan Patrick voted to put $3.4 billion of new funding into education. His actions allowed us to fully fund enrollment growth, and restore the unavoidable cuts made in prior budgets.”
The choices Patrick had to face as Education Committee chair in 2011 were not pleasant. It was a time “with lowered sales tax revenues” as the Texas Almanac reported. These economics factors affected the 82nd Legislature’s decisions to make the hard cuts. The choices were — raise property taxes or cut back.
On September 20, the Texas Tribune reported that Patrick addressed this topic. He said, “It was better to take a little bit of money out of the school district’s pockets than to take money out of your pocket when people were facing losing their jobs.”
No doubt, the two candidates — Patrick and Van de Putte — are polar opposites on education funding. Patrick’s proposing more efficient and effective ways, including a tax swap that would cap the amount that local governments can tax property while increasing the sales tax. He clarified this swap is not an increase, just a rethinking of where the tax burden might fall.
“We need to transition from depending all on property taxes to sales taxes,” the senator said at the Texas Tribune Festival, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Meanwhile, Van de Putte’s funding strategies have been one-note — to raid the state’s reserve funds. In 2011, it was her solution to the education shortfall and it’s her campaign promise in the Lt. Governor race today. The state’s “Rainy Day Fund” (or the Economic Stabilization Fund) was not set up as a piggy bank, though. It was set up in the event of an actual financial emergency as Breitbart Texas reported.
Yet, Van de Putte continues to plow through the partisan politics of passing off the state’s reserves as an education funding machine, proposing to siphon off $2 billion for subsidized community college that is only for eligible lower income students and pull out an additional $200 million out for universal full day pre-kindergarten (pre-k) for eligible disadvantaged children, the Dallas Morning News reported.
The news outlet also noted Van de Putte’s longing eye on bankrolling education through the Rainy Day Fund. Van de Putte even insisted, “The funding can be restored.” She said by using the state’s expected revenue surplus of $5 billion next year and the rainy day fund, projected to have as much as $8.5 billion by the next budget cycle.
There is little criticism of Van de Putte’s willingness to empty state coffers while she continues to look over her shoulder and squabble over past legislative decisions that only serve as diversions while there is no speculation of what would happen if reserve dollars she proposes grabbing aren’t replaced.
There’s no discussion as to how Van de Putte’s Rainy Day dollars would potentially mesh with the $30 million per year (for four years) expansion grant competition that Education Commissioner Michael Williams’ may pursue to bring President Obama’s universal full-pre-k into Texas. It’s modeled after Early Head Start, which Breitbart Texas reported and like Van de Putte’s plan, it’s only for eligible low to moderate income youngsters.
Instead, Patrick was slammed for saying “I led the charge to restore most of the education funding cuts” in 2013 for a final budget that did, in fact, replace $3.4 billion of the total $5 billion cut out of the 2011 legislative session — $4 billion earmarked for public K-12 and $1 billion for higher education. He’s also taken heat for his 2013 decisions to vote against the last version of the budget as well. He’s been given little opportunity to explain why after voting for increased education funding twice in March, he didn’t on the final. PolitiFact zapped him for it.
Unfortunately, Patrick’s also been demonized by Van de Putte for trying to do the right thing for the taxpayer, which doesn’t fit the progressive education narrative of spend, spend, and spend.
Patrick campaign spokesman Alejandro Garcia told Breitbart Texas “One of the reasons why Sen. Patrick voted against it was because it didn’t include enough border security funding and many key education priorities were no longer included in this final version.”
In a recent campaign statement Patrick explained, “We have spent vast amounts of money towards education and we’re still struggling to see significant improvement. Spending continues to rise steadily while the number of failing schools increases.”
Patrick isn’t the only conservative candidate maligned by Van de Putte. She’s gone after Greg Abbott, GOP frontrunner for governor and current Texas Attorney General, with wildly false assertions that he was standardizing preschool and bubble-testing four-year-olds, all debunked by PolitiFact. Still, Sen. Wendy Davis has since echoed Van de Putte’s discredited claims in her race against Abbott.
Regardless of Van de Putte’s rhetoric, Williams commented, “Despite my frustration at the time over Senator Patrick’s decision to vote against the final version of the budget, it does not change the fact that he supported new funding and restoration of the cuts,” also according to the Houston Chronicle.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.