Idealogy versus Demography


Ideology versus Demography

t’s hard to see how anyone could sit through one of State Demographer Steve Murdock’s presentations on what he calls “The Texas Challenge,” and not come away transformed. Murdock’s numbers (see, “Listen to the Prophet,” page 10) reveal that Texas is at a crossroads. In 30 years, the state will be much younger and more diverse than most of America. If we have an educated and healthy population, the economy—particularly because of our location on the border—will thrive. While most states will struggle to support an aging population, Texas’ dynamic workforce could provide for the state’s needs and keep taxes low. To get to that place will require a considerable investment in our young, non-Anglo population, many of whom still struggle with the legacy of institutional racism and neglect or face the challenges that come with being recent immigrants to the United States. If we fail to provide the resources now, in 30 years, there will be an enormous demand for social services, the prisons will house even more of Texas’ youth, and a low-wage service economy will make the state indistinguishable from the third world. Murdock says that most every legislator in the Texas Capitol is aware of the numbers. Not a single politician has challenged them as false or inaccurate. Yet on March 10, the Texas House, dominated by right-wing ideologues, signaled yet again which road it has decided to take when it passed House Bill 2, the school finance bill. This assault on our public education system comes on the heels of last session’s draconian cuts to health care for needy children. Not a single educational organization in Texas endorsed HB 2. The new money it provides for education will not even keep up with inflation. The implications of the leadership’s stinginess were not lost on those who argued against it. “Our future workforce is going to be decided by this legislation, and as this bill goes forward we will have a less educated, a less qualified, and a less competent workforce in the future because we didn’t do our job today,” Rep. Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville) told his colleagues. The failure to make the hard choices at the Lege is a function both of ideology and myopia. The dominant ideology dictates that government must be shrunk and the tax burden on businesses and the wealthy reduced. The results of this strategy will be a problem for future legislatures. Or maybe, for a few on the farthest fringe, the End Times will resolve the crisis. Current House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) acknowledges that he is aware of Murdock’s numbers. He argues that as Texas’ needs continue to grow, the state cannot simply throw money at the schools or Medicaid. “We don’t have a lot of money to expend on what you’re talking about,” he said. There is no hidden nefarious intent here. To some extent, legislators are simply doing what the people who elected them think they want. It’s going to take more than changing a few faces in the Legislature to reverse the catastrophe toward which Texas appears inexorably to be moving. The first step is for all Texans to realize that what happens to the least of us affects everyone in the state, regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic status. The reality behind Murdock’s dry statistics is that what it will be like for individuals in Texas in 2030 is what it will be like for the state as a whole. “Did we take advantage of this defining moment and did we do the best we could?,” Rep. Oliveira asked his colleagues as the debate on the school finance bill wound down. We all know the answer is no. —JB