Numbers released from the state earlier this week continued to underscore the financial toll Covid-19 has taken on Texas. Texas Comptroller Glen Hegar announced on Monday that May saw the biggest year-over-year sales tax decline since 2010. Declines occurred across the board, leading to a 13.2 percent drop compared to this time last year. Low revenue plus high numbers of people filing for unemployment equals economic woes for Texas.
“What's happened is the event has laid bare some of the cracks in the way we go about doing things,” Kirk Watson said. As a former state senator, Watson has spent a lot of time up close and personal with the state’s revenue procedures. But freshly retired from public office and now working as the founding dean for the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, Watson sees an opportunity to rework the way the Texas economy is shaped and in the process, make it more resilient to future knocks.
“We are in this time out, and now we can evaluate what was working and what wasn't working,” Watson said. “I really hope that what we don't do is just try to reinvent the old playbook and just go back to the way we were.”
So Watson has decided to write a new playbook, one with the goal of building a stronger and more equitable Texas. “A Playbook For Resiliency: Creating Opportunities For All Texans” lays out a 9-point plan for a post-pandemic Texas, including things like stronger partnerships between local governments, state investment in infrastructures like broadband access and healthcare, and economic inclusion and diversification.
“In this pandemic, we've seen a lot of weaknesses, education divide, urban, rural divide, vulnerabilities as far as equity and inclusion across the state,” Steven Pedigo said. He’s the director of the Urban Lab at The University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs and the co-author of the paper.
“We’ve been a place that’s invested in trying to get a lot of people to come to the state but not maybe doing enough investment in local Texans,” he said.
Their playbook focuses squarely on shoring up local Texans, both in the state’s larger cities and in its rural areas. They point out a need for collaboration, not an either/or approach to building up economic strength.
“Local versus state. Rural versus urban. Big business versus small business. Oil versus alternative energy...are all false dichotomies,” Watson and Pedigo state in their report. “The choices we should be making are between alternatives that do serve Texas’s long-term prosperity and quality of life and those that don’t.”
Getting their new playbook on the field will require buy-in from leaders across the board. Both Watson and Pedigo admit there’s no guarantee policymakers will embrace their plan. But they’re hopeful the roadmap will help guide Texas toward a new way of doing business.
“The real key piece of this is resiliency,” Pedigo said. “We all want to reopen the economy. We all want to get started again. But also don't want to live through the crisis again. So the way to do that is to incorporate some of these policies and say if there is an economic shock … at least our economy can be somewhat shock resistant. We can reduce the shock and have a little more vibrancy on the other side of this. "
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