“We are going to have to make serious decisions in the future because we can’t keep stretching the nickel,” Patrick said. “How do we fund education long term? I think we should add 2 cents to the sales tax, and dedicate that to education. The reason I think that is: for every penny we bring in, we get $2.5 billion.” His statement, made in support of more funding for public education, came during a September 1 speech to a Cy-Fair Houston chamber of commerce meeting and was reported in a community newspaper. The huge Cy-Fair school district is one of the fastest growing in the state and has one of the most diverse student cohorts, so he was speaking to an audience that was likely to be receptive instead of horrified. Nevertheless, for someone who clearly has statewide ambitions, it was a bold statement. The neglect of public education during the Perry governorship will have serious long-term consequences for this state, as sure as night follows day. Those consequences could have been avoided this session by using the Rainy Day Fund, but Perry put his political ambitions ahead of the needs, and future, of the state by refusing to allow lawmakers access to the fund–and then bragging about it in his speeches around the country. What he doesn’t say in his speeches is that we are now in the business of manufacturing adults who don’t have high school diplomas, and we have gotten much too good at it. I don’t think this is the first time Patrick has come out in favor of more funding for education; I’m pretty sure I heard him mention it in a finance committee meeting this session, and I think he wrote it in an exchange of letters we had some time ago. Of course, Patrick is right. Everyone knows that we have a structural budget deficit due to rising costs, student enrollment growth, and the failure to raise new revenue. Is a structural budget deficit really conservative? I have to say, though, that Patrick drives me crazy. He is very smart, he knows the score, he has great potential, but he does things–meddling in the speaker’s race, showboating about the sonogram bill–that diminish him. I don’t want to subtract from the importance of what he has done. If he carries through on his concern about the need for more revenue for public schools, he will have earned–in my book, at least–the stature to hold statewide office. In the Perry era, addressing the state’s problems has gone out of fashion. Texas needs public officials who actually care about fixing what is broken instead of spouting ideology. If Dan Patrick wants to be that kind of public official–and I don’t see any other contenders–I’m all for him.
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