AUSTIN, Texas – On the eve of the 84th legislative session, state Senator José Rodríguez has commented on the biennial revenue estimates and penned an open letter to the constituents of Senate District 29.

Rodríguez, an attorney, was born in Alice, Texas, and raised in Alamo, Texas. He was educated at what was then Pan American University (now UT-Pan American) in Edinburg and George Washington University School of Law in Washington, D.C. A Democrat from El Paso, Rodríguez represents the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. The district covers 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border.

State Sen. José Rodríguez spoke recently at a Senate Hispanic Caucus workshop in Weslaco.
State Sen. José Rodríguez spoke recently at a Senate Hispanic Caucus workshop in Weslaco.

Rodríguez currently serves as the chairman of the Senate Hispanic Caucus, vice chairman of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Criminal Justice, Veteran Affairs and Military Installations, and Government Organization. These committee assignments may change in the 84th Legislature.

Here is Rodríguez’s reaction to the biennial revenue estimate, announced by Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Monday:

“Our most important legislative obligation is the budget, which should reflect the needs in our state. Given the Texas income gap and high levels of child poverty and hunger, chronic underfunding of education, and lack of access to health care for far too many, it does not make economic sense to prioritize special interest tax breaks over serving our most vulnerable. The budget is the bottom line for how we express our values as a Legislature. With estimated revenues of $113 billion for the biennium, we have the chance now to tell every Texan that they are worth investing in because they are part of our shared future. A biennial budget that simply maintains current services, which still have not been fully restored after the deep cuts of 2011, would be $101 billion.”

To view the biennial revenue estimate from the Comptroller’s Office in full, click here.

Here is Rodríguez’s open letter to constituents:

Dear friend:

Every two years, we have the opportunity to execute policies that affect the lives of everyone in the state. That’s what we have to keep at the forefront of the debate as the 84th Texas Legislature convenes tomorrow morning. It’s about all of us.

Unfortunately, too often the proposals put forth on education, health care, economic opportunity and myriad other issues leave huge segments of our population out of the equation.

This helps explain why, while the Texas economy is doing well relative to other parts of the country, we are doing poorly when it comes to spreading the wealth. Texas doesn’t measure up when it comes to support for public education, ensuring access to health care, or overall percentage of people who barely earn enough to eat and keep a roof over their head.

With our natural blessings — abundant energy, both fossil-based and renewable, abundant land for growing crops, and world-class land and sea ports — along with our great cities and a young, diverse, and ambitious population, we should be seizing this moment to build the future.

Here’s what we know works: Our nation’s greatest periods of economic opportunity, when the majority of the people shared prosperity, were those in which unions were strong and high-income earners paid a greater share of taxes, and government – you and I – wisely invested those on behalf of the people back into the economy through public works and public education. Public health ought to be a piece of that equation.

We did the right thing when we implemented work safety rules, time off, and the minimum wage, created national parks, roads and bridges and ports and public transit and water systems, and invested in public and higher education. This is what helped us progress in the prosperous 20th Century.

We have the same opportunity now. The following areas are among the most important to focus upon:

— Education: In 2011, the state imposed a draconian budget on its residents. No state mandate suffered more than education. We are entering 2015 with a surplus, and it ought to be directed at education. Specific programs that are proven to work include all day pre-k; and the Student Success Initiative, and those should be fully supported. We also ought to listen to the experts, who say that teaching English Language Learners costs more, and invest in a future bilingual and globally competitive workforce.

— Health care: When it comes to health care, just as in education, Texas’ commitment falters. Access to health care is a key element of economic security and mobility, and should be available to everyone.

— Economic opportunity: Access to health care and education are indicators of a community’s health. And, of course, so is economic opportunity — income, working conditions, availability of work, and other factors.

— Criminal Justice: One of the reasons people often cannot find work is because of a criminal record from non-violent offenses. Disproportionately, these affect people of color. I am looking very seriously at our drug laws, and at our sentencing of juveniles, among other matters.

— Equality: Just as we expect equality under our justice system, we also expect equality in our ability to pursue “life, liberty, and happiness.” And, we expect the Constitution to protect those whose pursuits are curtailed for no good reason other than prejudice. This is why I joined colleagues in the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives to pre-file legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry in Texas.

— Civic engagement: Voter turnout in this past election was under 10 percent in El Paso County and 33 percent statewide. We need to figure out how to build community engagement and participation around elections, and we need to do so in the face of active voter disenfranchisement.

— Immigration: President Obama had to take executive action to put a halt on deportations to some of the millions of undocumented immigrants working and living in the United States. The country can no longer sit idly by as Congress continues to fail to pass comprehensive immigration reform and allows families to be torn apart by a broken immigration system.

Our most important legislative obligation is the budget, which should reflect the needs in our state. Given the Texas income gap and high levels of child poverty and hunger, as well as our still healthy revenue growth, it doesn’t make sense to prioritize corporate tax breaks over service to our people. And if it turns out that our boom is turning flat, and we failed to build upon years of prosperity while our competitors, such as California, retake the momentum, we will look back and regret the lost opportunity.

Oppressive voting laws, regressive tax and economic policy, and the attempts to dismantle vital government services such as education, health care and the social safety net, do not further our future. I will take every opportunity to achieve true equality, expand civic engagement so our policies benefit the many instead of the few, and reform a criminal justice system that has skewed against low-wage earners and people of color.

From education to health care to economic opportunity to criminal justice to civic participation to immigration, we are working toward greater justice for all, that we may equally pursue life, liberty and happiness.


José Rodríguez