So far, so good.
Gov. Greg Abbott, in his State of the State address Tuesday morning, did just what we were hoping for: He kept the state’s legislative focus where it needs to be — largely on education funding and property tax relief — and off the divisive nonsense that mostly derailed the last Legislature.
It was an address in which the governor gloried in the strong position of our state, then argued lawmakers have hard work to do to keep it moving in the right direction.
He is right on both counts.
To jump-start the progress, he named several issues as emergencies in need of quick action: School finance reform, teacher pay, school safety, mental health, property tax reform and crime topped the list.
With his designations of those issues, lawmakers are allowed to take action on them immediately despite the constitutional limitation that prevents the Legislature from passing bills in the first 60 days of the session.
While we support the top twin goals of property tax relief and increased funding for public education, achieving them will be a neat trick. Reducing taxes while increasing spending would seem a difficult equation. But the fact is they can only work together.
The notion that state government can put a cap on local property taxes, an idea floated by Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, has a big “if” next to it: It could work only if the Legislature finds a way to substantially increase state support to local school districts. Declines in that funding stream are behind jumps in property taxes, which have been used to finance growing school budgets. However, even if the Legislature increases funding, simply placing arbitrary caps on local taxes is a far cry from tax reform.
We also were gratified by Abbott’s focus on increased funding for mental health, to fight human trafficking and for creation of two new anti-gang centers. One of those centers, proposed for Tyler, could have an impact on crime in East Texas.
In his address, Abbott offered few specifics about how any of this would be accomplished. A big hint is in the fact he, the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House so far all seem to be singing from the same hymnal. That is a positive sign. We hope it means this Legislature can keep the focus where it needs to be: on real issues that need attention.
The governor has done his part laying out a smart agenda for the betterment of our state. Now it is time for Abbott and the Legislature to get to work making his wish list a reality.
We were gratified by the governor’s mention of Longview ISD as one of the districts across the state that is getting it right in preparing students for work or higher education.
Such a shoutout is not an accident. It is the result of hard work that has created positive results for our city’s young people. Longview’s largest school district has a track record of innovation that serves many of its students far better than would be the case in many other Texas school districts. We all should be proud.