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FEATURE Low-hanging Fruit Texas faces obvious problems that the 80th Lege could easily fix. It probably won’t. BY DAVID PASZTOR 0 n the frigid day in Texas that Rick Perry was sworn in for the term that will make him our longest-serving governor, one in five Texas children did not have health insurance. By the best estimate available, Texas public school districts needed nearly $10 billion to repair or replace decaying buildings. Texas power plants, factories, and cars continued to pump out more greenhouse gases than any other state, or most countries, for that matter. David Dewhurst took his second oath as lieutenant governor, vowing to enact a death penalty for repeat sex offenders. At that moment, state prisons were already overflowing, including tens of thousands of mentally ill inmates who have received little in the way of treatment before or after landing in jail. In fact, the state of Texas is now trying to convince the U.S. Supreme Court that one of thema diagnosed schizophrenic who represented himself at trial wearing a cowboy costumeis just sane enough to be executed. Tom Craddick won his third term as House speaker after fighting back an insurgent challenge to his leadership fueled in part by growing disgust over the undue influence of rich campaign contributors, whose largesse has been rewarded with limits on lawsuits and protections for homebuilders. The flow of money continues to course unchecked through Texas politics. While the strong have fared well under the leadership of these three menand the Republican majorities in the House and Senatethe weak have not. State highways are being handed over to multinational corporations to run as profitmaking toll roads, but there is not enough money to patch schoolhouse roofs or help battered women hire lawyers when they need protective orders. Many poor Texans who qualify for food stamps and other aid funded by the federal government still don’t get help, because Texas can’t or won’t deliver the federal dollars. There is, in short, no lack of obvious, substantive problems in Texas that could be fixed. And for now there is little chance they will be. The following examples are by no means exhaustive. They’d make good starting points if the state’s leadership is truly intent on accomplishing something worthwhile this legislative session: While Texas froze over, hell probably won’t. LIVE AND LET DIE The health-care model Texas has created is harsh, yet simple: If you have money, you can access some of the best medi 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 26, 2007 Tom Craddick photo by Jana Birchum cal treatment in the world. If you’re poor, well, good luck. It’s widely accepted that people with health insurance lead healthier lives. Yet one in four Texans has no health coverageby far the highest rate in the nation \(the national aver20 also worst in the nation. Despite these dreadful numbers, Texas lawmakers have shrunk the state’s public-assistance programs in recent years. Nearly 80,000 of Texas’ poorest children have been kicked off Medicaid since 2003. Another 180,000 kids have lost coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program since September 2003. The drops in enrollment were due mostly to bureaucratic roadblocks cynically designed by the Legislature to winnow poor Texans off Medicaid and CHIP. For example,