The recent legislative session will not soon be forgotten. The focus was perpetually on anything but initiatives required to move Texas forward. Some high profile measures stalled but will no doubt resurface; others passed.
Whether it was making voting more difficult, removing requirements for safety training to carry firearms, restricting student eligibility to participate in competitive sports, prohibiting the teaching of aspects of our history, limiting access to health care, eliminating proven economic development programs, or numerous similar issues, every day birthed a distraction that was, at best, unnecessary and, quite often, downright harmful.
In particular, many of these measures are squarely at odds with efforts to achieve high quality, long-term prosperity. Knowledge workers, Millennials, technology companies, major sports leagues, and convention planners are increasingly resistant to locations perceived to be discriminatory in providing opportunities. This movement has been ongoing for years, with the pandemic intensifying the desire for resilient and welcoming communities. My firm has researched such issues several times, and the risks are very real.
Texas has unbounded economic potential, but faces daunting challenges – educating our future workforce in the wake of seismic demographic shifts and rapidly evolving skills requirements; providing the infrastructure (including universal broadband and a reliable power grid assuring adequate capacity) needed to support expansion; creating and maintaining a viable health care system that assures access and supports sustainability; and revamping an antiquated tax system to respond to emerging economic patterns. The magnitude of these tasks is exceeded only by the potential rewards of success (or consequences of failure).
Texas has long stood on the shoulders of visionaries of all stripes making enlightened decisions at critical times. Sam Houston secured offshore water rights while still on the battlefield at San Jacinto. A young Dolph Briscoe championed the farm-to-market road system. Mark White spearheaded efforts to make Texas a technology juggernaut during the turbulent 1980s. Rick Perry fostered a path breaking cancer research initiative, vaulting the state to the forefront of biomedicine.
This type of leadership is sorely missing at present. The issues that dominated the legislative session distract from crucial priorities and, in many cases, hinder genuine progress. Some decisions, such as foregoing indigent health insurance despite huge infusions of federal dollars and numerous studies showing it to be a fiscal win for the State or limiting the ability of school districts to deploy stimulus dollars for pandemic recovery, are penny wise and pound foolish. While this agenda may be perceived on a short-term basis as politically wise, it is most assuredly policy foolish.
If Texas is to achieve its full economic potential and provide opportunities for all to participate, we must do better, deserve to do better, and can do better. Stay safe!