Texas credit union officials gained insight into the Texas political scene yesterday during TCUL’s Texas Governmental Affairs Conference and Member Meeting & Expo. The event is being held this week in Austin.
Education dominated much of the conversation in yesterday’s open dialogue between Evan Smith and Ross Ramsey, in a session that was sponsored by the Texas Credit Union Foundation.
Smith is a Texas political expert and editor-in-chief for the Texas Tribune. Ramsey is executive editor of the Texas Tribune and editor of Texas Weekly.
According to Smith, Texas ranks 49th in educational spending; spends on average $8,400 per student compared to the national average of $11,000 per student. There is a healthy debate in the Texas legislature on how to raise the performance level of our schools without the proper funding.
“Our teachers can’t pay the light bill with pure hearts and good intentions,” said Smith. “They need funding.”
The duo also shared their thoughts and opinions on key issues such as water, the budget, and highway infrastructure, among other things.
Many communities across Texas are feeling the effects of the drought. Not so long ago, there was a fear that we would run out of water in 20 years. But today, there are communities that could very well run out of water in 20 weeks. And according to Smith, there is one city in Texas that actually ran out of water 20 weeks ago.
Ramsey brought up the 2012 unfunded state water plan, which would have cost $53 billion over 50 years. A House bill was introduced in 2013 that would draw $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.
“Ironically, today we want to solve the drought problem out of the Rainy Day Fund,” added Smith.
Evans observes that in Texas, our state culture demands exceptionalism, but that high standard comes at a high price, and when it comes time for putting up money to be the best, we traditionally fall short.
Smith and Ramsey also addressed the pressure that not having an income tax puts on sales/consumption tax, as well as property tax to fill the budgetary gap.
The large number of freshman lawmakers also took center stage in their conversation. According to the duo, these freshmen bring a new dynamic to the legislature. Many of the freshmen conservative bloc have strong ideas on how to cut the budget.
Speaking of freshmen lawmakers, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) joined the duo on stage to offer his perspective on the national scene, and reflect on his experiences in the state government.
Rep. Castro recalled arriving in Washington for orientation, where he got out of the cab and walked into the hotel to find two registration desks - one for republicans and one for democrats. Castro says he immediately got a strong sense that there were two camps.
When asked by Smith if he felt he could get anything done in that environment, Castro feels confident that he can have an impact through committee work.
The three also discussed the exploding growth in the Hispanic population and what impact that would have on future elections.
Ramsey questioned Castro on whether he felt Republicans could recover and earn the Hispanic vote. Although rhetoric and legislation such as that passed in Arizona haven’t helped the Republicans, Castro says Democrats cannot assume they’ll get the Hispanic vote. “They have to earn it,” he told the credit union audience.
Castro closed his comments by highlighting the fact that he is a strong credit union supporter. In fact, he’s had an account with a credit union since he was a youth – a comment that drew hearty applause from the credit union audience. His first account was with Generations FCU (formerly San Antonio City EFCU). And just recently, Castro says he got his new mortgage through a credit union in D.C.
“This session was a stimulating kick-off to the day,” says Tom Haider, executive vice president and TCUL’s chief advocacy officer. “It really helped to emphasize the importance of being well informed on political issues.”
TCUL’s Texas Governmental Affairs Conference and Member Meeting & Expo wraps up today.