From marijuana legalization to gun regulations, education funding and everything in between, few stones were left unturned during the Texas Tribune’s discussion Tuesday with state Reps. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, and Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, as the pair prepare for another legislative session starting next month.
The hourlong discussion at the Baylor Club moderated by Texas Tribune co-founder and CEO Evan Smith touched on a wide range of topics including climate change, constitutional carry, water rights and conservation, property taxes, public education finance and border security.
State funding for public education is at an all-time low. Increasingly, taxpayers are picking up the state’s slack through increased property taxes. Things may change next year, as Gov. Greg Abbott has called on the state Legislature to boost school funding.
In light of the increased attention on public education finance, Smith pressed Anderson and Kacal on how they plan to alleviate the reoccurring public education finance dilemma during a legislative session also burdened with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
“You’ve kicked so many cans down the road from the last session, you have enough for a 12-pack,” Smith said.
Better funding for public education is the solution to 80 percent of the state’s problems, Kacal said.
“You can’t make valid and good decisions unless you’re educated and know how to read,” Kacal said. “It all begins with that education. Once we deplete them of that we’re not doing them any service. Education solves a number of problems.”
Anderson said education is a “convoluted issue” but agreed that the state’s share of public education funding needs to increase, citing that less than 50 percent of the state’s third-graders read at grade level.
“If we put in another $3 to $4 billion, some folks would say it needs to be $5 billion,” Anderson said.
He said the state could not afford universal prekindergarten, a proposal tossed around in previous legislative sessions. He said he supports continued use of the state’s standardized testing system as a necessary gauge for efficient use of taxpayer money.
When Smith questioned the legislators’ support of $1.6 billion in border security funding over the past two legislative sessions, funding officials have previously said was necessary because of an inadequate effort by the federal government under the Obama administration, and whether it would continue under a conservative Trump administration, the pair said they will likely continue to support a similar border security proposal in the upcoming legislative session.
“You can’t put the cart before the horse,” Anderson said. “If you say we can’t spend that ($800 million), then you run into problems at the border. It’s not just illegals. It’s drugs and opiates.”
When asked if he has metrics to prove the border security funding was well spent, Kacal said he could not point to exact metrics but that he “didn’t want to see what this state will look like without having spent that.”
The state of Texas is the 10th largest economy in the country, yet its education system ranks 43rd in the country. Smith questioned where the legislators would find the money to improve the state’s public education system.
“There’s no addition through addition in the Texas budget,” Smith said. “We don’t like new revenue, we don’t like taxes, we don’t like fees, we don’t like finding new money except when the economy grows and new money pours into the budget. The only way we spend money in Texas is addition through subtraction.”
Kacal said he is optimistic that his colleagues may vote to dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a source of state funding with a balance of more than $11 billion.
Water is sure to be an issue in the next session, Kacal said.
“Once we educate these kids and provide health care for them, they have to have water to survive,” he said. “We want to keep the economic engine going.”
To protect the state’s water supply, Kacal said he and his colleagues need to base their decisions on science, taking into account recent studies about the impacts of climate change.
On the issue of marijuana legislation, which could provide a new state funding stream, Anderson and Kacal said they do not see it being a serious issue this session.
“It always perplexed me how we ostracize tobacco smokers,” Anderson said. “They have to go outside 100 foot away. So you can’t smoke that leaf, but it’d be okay to smoke this leaf.”
Anderson said he needs to hear more discussion on the issue.
In response to a question from the audience about his stance on constitutional carry, the ability to openly carry a gun without a permit, Anderson said he is “fine” with the concept but needs to see further studies.
Kacal said he backs law enforcement organizations in their opposition to constitutional carry.
When asked for his stance on the proposed Senate Bill 1819, which would effectively repeal in-state college tuition for undocumented students, Anderson said there are more pressing issues facing Texas.
“Today we talked about all of these issues that require funding in Texas,” Anderson said. “We have to worry about nursing homes, we have to worry about pre-K, we have to worry about a tremendous number of needs, special needs kids in school, mental health, jail diversion, all these things we’re trying to worry about. I think those things take prominence over the dreamers.”