Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, SD 14

“I get that property tax is painful, [but] we’re never going to have a surplus like this again”

Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, SD 14
Courtesy of Sarah Eckhardt

The 10 Democratic members of the Texas Senate have two mandates. One is to faithfully represent the viewpoints of their constituents, which matters a lot. The other is to actually get something, anything, done to fix what's broken in Texas, about which they can do very little under the iron rule of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. And so Sen. Sarah Eckhardt has proudly authored and signed on to bills to decriminalize abortion as well as marijuana, expand Medicaid, restrict sales of assault weapons, and other things that won't pass, but that Austin's senator must do. So what about the other thing?

"I think I can be of the most service during this particular round in putting actual movement behind expanding mental health care," Eckhardt told the Chronicle last month. "Surprisingly, Patrick admitted we need to expand our state hospital system" in the Lite Guv's rollout of his priorities for the 88th Lege. This has been happening verrry slowly under a master plan that includes the current rebuild of the Austin State Hospital; the relevant agencies are so cash-starved they can only do one city's mental hospital at a time. "If you're looking at the current wait times in county jails just for competency restoration" – that is, bringing inmates sufficient sanity to allow them to stand trial – "we need three times the number of beds. So we have a lot of catching up to do."

Luckily, we actually have a lot of money to do it, an unprecedented $30 billion budget surplus that is mostly one-time dollars and that, because this is Texas, Patrick et al. mostly want to give away to middle- and upper-class homeowners. "I get that property tax is painful. The best structural change [would be] to increase the basic allotment" of per-student state funding to local schools "and index it [to inflation], so the state is always paying its fair share. That would be the most extensive and equitable property tax relief. But we could use these one-time dollars to bring the state's technology infrastructure to modern standards, support our rural hospital network, and [on] making other improvements that would benefit every Texan not just today but into the next generation. We're never going to have a surplus like this again."

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Sarah Eckhardt, 88th Legislature, Texas Senate, abortion

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