Texas is in great shape and in great need.
That's the beautifully blended message in Gov. Greg Abbott's State of the State address to the Texas Legislature's cheerful chamber of lawmakers in Austin on Tuesday morning.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a "State of" speech for any other state or nation that is more confident, aspirational or bolstered by pleasant reality. Especially as compared to other places you could live, Texas is on a roll.
As Abbott notes, people are moving here in droves — 1,000 a day. They come for 1,000 reasons, though Abbott emphasized those who've made "life-altering decisions" to move to Texas by virtue of being "fed up with big government policies increasingly running their lives." In Texas, he declared, they've found "a governmental Holy Grail."
With Abbott touting the fastest-growing economy in the country, leaders of the state's eight largest Chambers of Commerce in the audience held aloft the four consecutive "Governor's Cups" the state has won for the most new and expanded business facilities.
"I'm proud to tell you, the state of Texas has never been better," the governor declared.
Most heads of state say that almost every year. But this one may be right.
Even so, Abbott quickly pivoted to needs so glaring and urgent that he declared them emergencies needing quick action: school finance reform and teacher pay; school safety; mental health; property tax reform; and disaster response.
He's got all that right, too, though property owners and educators breathlessly await the legislature's response to the twin school finance/property tax emergencies. How will lawmakers provide relief to property owners while boosting school finance and teacher pay, while helping poorer districts? Their already-announced plan to simply cap local property tax increases at 2.5 percent would hamstring local officials but do little else.
It's hard to argue with the governor's priorities; he has set an issues-oriented agenda for the state. The devil is in the details, of course, when competing interests do battle in the House and Senate.
One battle we hope is won, however, is Sen. Jane Nelson's fight to enhance and expand mental health access, particularly to troubled youths. The Tarrant/Denton District 12 senator, chairwoman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, already has all 31 senators backing her SB 10, which would facilitate pediatrician consultations with psychiatric experts at Texas medical schools; allow for telemedicine mental health screening of youths; and create a Mental Health Care Consortium to coordinate these and other initiatives.
We also appreciate the governor's emphasis on tackling human trafficking, which is a scourge of unalloyed evil taking place right under our very noses. He's proposed six new regional human trafficking squads, to bolster existing state and local anti-trafficking units.
There is much to like in Gov. Abbott's State of the State address. There is much for lawmakers to now do, to realize the governor's vision and the state's true potential.
The governor is right that, in so many ways, Texas is in great shape. But he's right that there is also great need.
However buoyant the State of the State spectacle was, the legislature has its work cut out for itself.
— Reprinted with permission from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram