EDITORIAL

Texas Republicans: You have the power; use it wisely

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The trouble with power is always what you do with it once you get it.

Hold on to it too long, and you risk losing sight of how you got it in the first place.

It's something the Texas GOP might do well to remember after Election Day. Over and over, voters have given the party control of state government in exchange for the assurance that Texas will remain a place where business thrives and government by and large keeps its nose out of people's business.

Now that voters have once again trusted Republicans to run our state, that's what Gov. Greg Abbott and the host of Republicans returned to state government need to focus on in the coming session. What we don't need is a replay of the 2017 legislative session, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led us into the bathroom while meaningful property tax reform and repairs to the broken school finance system went unaddressed.

Texas doesn't have the luxury for lawmakers to fiddle around with politically expedient but otherwise ineffective gestures.

Patrick campaigned on a plan to pursue local property tax caps as substitute for actually addressing the real needs of municipalities and school districts. While we recognize the struggle with rising property tax bills, capping rates would just handcuff growing cities and counties that must pay for services, with many of those services mandated by the state itself.

Leadership is needed on the school finance front, too. Lawmakers are likely to toss a few more state dollars toward local school district budgets, just enough to say they did something, but not enough to make a difference or dramatically alter the flawed financing formula. This is a major problem. The state's share of education funding is now below 40 percent, forcing local districts to raise the money they need from local property taxpayers. The result is that local property taxpayers are enduring an unsustainable burden.

A session without tangible progress on school funding and property tax relief would be a step backward. In 2014, a state judge ruled that state lawmakers failed to live up to their obligations under the Texas Constitution to properly fund public education. The Texas Supreme Court ruled the system did not violate the Constitution, but insisted that lawmakers, not the courts, should repair the broken funding system. Without a solid fix, employers, many of whom already complain that they can't find enough skilled workers, could rethink investments in Texas.

If not for the leadership of outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus and a few House members, lawmakers last session would have saddled Texas with business stifling legislation. Straus courageously kept the discriminatory, anti-business bathroom bill from coming to the floor and ensured that the restrictions couldn't be amended to other legislation. His leadership against private-school vouchers, property tax caps and Austin's efforts to override local government control beat back bad policies that would have hurt Texas' competitiveness.

We would hope that blocking tactics would not be necessary in the 2019 session. Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and the next speaker have it within their power to set the state in the right direction. But first, they must display political courage, sidestep distracting culture wars and focus on policies and investments that will allow our economy to boom now and in the future.

— Reprinted with permission.

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