MCALLEN, RGV – State Sen. Juan Hinojosa says the recently completed 86th Legislature was great for South Texas.

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian before appearing at today’s “The Rio Grande Valley and the 86th Legislature” discussion hosted by the Texas Tribune at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance Hinojosa said:

“I am just glad to be back home. We had a great session, five months straight, with long, long hours,” Hinojosa said.

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa

“We provided funding to reform our public school system to the point that it is going to be very transformational for education. We, here in the Valley, will gain over $100 million to help our students. We have given teachers a pay raise. But, just as important we found a way to provide a property cap on property taxes for school districts, 2.5, which means the State of Texas will make up the difference in funding. It is about $11 billion-plus.”

In a guest column, Hinojosa pointed out that additional investment in public education came out to $11.5 billion. “These new funds will reduce school property taxes  by $5 billion, increase teacher pay by $2 billion, and increase the state’s share of funding from 38 percent to 45 percent. Together, these reforms will make the school finance system more equitable and reduce the burden on local property taxes,” he wrote.

Hinojosa was asked to react to those who have voiced concerns that the state will not be able to sustain the increased investment in public education without addressing structural changes to the way the state’s finances. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez of Austin was one of those to voice concerns.

“While we have laid the groundwork for restoring balance to our public school finance system, I am concerned with our ability to sustain this level of spending without taking drastic actions in the future. Republicans failed to identify an equitable and sustainable source of funding to offset the state’s over-reliance on local property taxes, and much of the funding that the House dedicated to public education was misappropriated by negotiators to cover for Republicans’ failure to deliver Texans with meaningful property tax relief,” Rodriguez said.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez

Rodriguez, who was born and raised in McAllen, added: “The underlying structural problems in our state’s finances have yet to be resolved. Texans will see a negligible reduction in the growth of their property taxes under these bills – renters will see no relief at all. During the interim, Texas Democrats will take a close look at what it will take to sustain the programs we are investing in under HB 3 and continue fighting against Republican ‘consumption tax’ proposals that will provide tax cuts to the wealthy at the expense of working Texans.”

Hinojosa responded: “We increased formula funding from $5,180 per student to $6,160, almost a thousand dollar increase. Our budget is only good for two years. We cannot tie the legislature way and forever, for ten, 15, 20 years into the future. But, obviously we have made a commitment. We are a very wealthy state. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States. So, the funding is there. We have made a commitment to make public education a priority. I don’t see the changing for the simple reason the public would not tolerate us going back on what we have done, to reduce the commitment we have made in terms of actually dollars to public education.”

In addition to more funding for education, Hinojosa said the legislature added over $1 billion to the teacher retirement system. “On top of that we gave retired teachers a 13th check, capped at $2,000. And we provided funding in the millions so they would not get an increase in their healthcare premiums from 2020.” 

Hinojosa said the legislature also addressed school safety. “We provided $300 million for public school safety, with $100 million for mental health to try to interview early in the life of a child, whether it is drug abuse, whether it is health issues, to intervene and identify those children.”

Other big issues addressed, Hinojosa said, were capping the amount of money local municipalities can raise and emergency preparedness.

“We placed a cap on cities, a trigger, which is 3.5, if you (cities) ever want to go above that you have to ask the voters for permission. We addressed property taxes. On Hurricane Harvey we actually found a way to address all the needs, to find matching funds for our communities that were damaged by the hurricane. We are able to draw federal monies, and we provided funding for our flood control mitigation, for water resources. We had a great session.”

Hinojosa concluded his interview with a shout-out to the South Texas legislative delegation. “I am so proud of our delegation here in the Valley. We have such strong leaders. We are South Texas, not just the Valley. I think I have the best delegation of all the state senators in the whole state of Texas.”

Asked for a wrap-up remark, Hinojosa said: “Voters make a difference. They sent a very strong message in the last election, to focus on issues, what I call the bread and butter issues, the issues that matter to families: jobs, healthcare, education, our economy, infrastructure. I will not go into infrastructure right now but we did a lot for infrastructure.”