Lawmakers right to refuse federal funding

Gov. Rick Perry, Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison and other Texas representatives are enduring criticism to their opposition to the $26.1 billion federal education funding package passed last week that probably will leave Texas out of the mix.

The state could receive up to $830 million, but requires Perry to make promises he can’t legally make.

The legislation contains a provision that makes Texas’ allocation contingent on the governor’s promise that the state maintain certain education and Medicaid funding levels through 2013. The provision is specific to Texas. It was added because Perry in March declined $3.25 billion in federal stimulus funding because the money had similar strings attached.

Perry rightly says he can’t make such promises. Like the president, Texas’ governor has no supreme powers; all funding is set by the Legislature.

The provision was added by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who knows full well the limits to the governor’s authority.

Who knows — the conflict might have been avoided if the Legislature had been in session and lawmakers had voted to set funding levels that met the bill’s requirements. But the Texas Legislature meets every other year, from January to May, and this is an off year. And of course, even the Legislature is bound by the assets at its disposal. The state Constitution — fortunately — doesn’t allow deficit spending.

Even so, forcing this or any other state to guarantee minimum funding levels, for anything, is a bad idea, especially in these precarious economic times. No one can predict the future — certainly not White House officials, who have been celebrating the end of the recession for two years now — and it’s risky to assume the funds will be there two years from now.

Other states also have to make concessions, such as agreeing to adopt federal education standards instead of any their state school boards might have adopted, even if the state standards are higher.

The worst part of this madness is the idea that taxpayers’ money is being used to extort certain guarantees and behaviors. Sadly, the practice has become common.

How many state laws and local ordinances have been passed (reduced speed limits, seatbelt laws, etc.) largely because federal money has been promised if the states and counties meet certain standards? Essentially, federal officials are imposing their will in areas where they have no jurisdiction, simply because they know legislatures and commissions are willing to sell out their constituents for the promise of a few federal dollars.

It’s worth noting that many Democratic officials are trying to raise public pressure against the governor by saying the loss of $830 million will cause 14,500 Texas teachers to lose their jobs. That isn’t likely to happen; public education is the first and largest item in the state budget, and state allocations, coupled with local property taxes each school district collects, will help ensure that schools have the teachers they need. This is new money, not a cut in existing school resources.

Certainly, such a large infusion of federal taxpayers’ money would help; it would enable the state, which makes its school allocation from its general fund, to finance other projects. Like so many other federal

allocations, however, getting this money would require the state to sell its soul, and in this case it isn’t the governor’s to sell.

Many might be upset at the possibility of missing out on so many millions. But the anger should really be directed at federal officials who find it easy to bribe and extort local taxpayers with their own money.