BY STATE REP. RENE O. OLIVEIRA
How do we keep the Texas economy growing and moving forward, when we face increasing competition from other states and countries? While the question is broad, the answers are quite simple: More education and job training for our students, more investments in transportation and water infrastructure, and keeping an open and friendly business environment that is free of discrimination.
Dedicating ourselves to finding the money and making these goals a priority is difficult, especially when some politicians want to focus on divisive social issues to cover their inability to advance these solutions. Yet, neglecting these priorities seriously compromises our potential economic prosperity and well-being, as a report issued last week by the interim House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness found.
For decades, state demographers have foretold that in order to improve Texas’ economic future, we have to spend more money to better educate our growing number of limited English proficiency and economically disadvantaged students. We have not spent the money needed and the academic progress of those students continues to lag. The Legislature, the committee found, must make funding adjustments to account for inflation and population growth if we are to make improvements where they are most urgently needed.
In higher education, we continue to lag behind the rest of the nation in the attainment of college degrees. Only 35 percent of Texans ages 25 to 34 hold an associate degree or higher. The national average is 44 percent. Degree attainment must increase in order for Texas to keep pace with the changing demands of the high-tech labor market. The Hispanic population is the fastest growing demographic in Texas, yet we have a low rate of degree attainment. Unless that disparity is resolved, the low rate of degrees will spiral further.
The report to the 86th Legislature, which convenes in January, highlights the need for new roads and port improvements to get goods to market more efficiently. Water supply and storage, too, are ongoing issues that need urgent attention as Texas’ population is projected to increase by more than 70 percent from 2020 to 2070.
The report also examines the effects of discriminatory legislation like Senate Bill 6, last year’s controversial “Bathroom Bill” that would have gutted Texas’ tourism and convention industries. As global corporate culture adapts to the changing workplace, corporations are increasingly unwilling to do business in any place where discrimination and intrusions on individual liberties are the law of the land.
Statewide business leaders also testified before the committee about the negative effects of Senate Bill 4, the sanctuary cities bill, which I vigorously opposed. They testified that the anti-immigrant legislation has reduced the state’s labor pool substantially, especially in the construction industry. The Dallas Builders Association, as the committee report indicates, estimates that 20,000 new workers would need to enter the labor market to keep up with current demand as a result of the worker shortage.
I submit that, in a world of increased globalization and automation, Texas is going to have a difficult time competing economically if we do not change our commitment to education, funding basic infrastructure in a growing state, and how we do business and treat others. This week’s report confirms it.