The results of Tuesday’s elections at every level of government hold a message. Listening past the rhetoric, I hear that people are scared. They are scared for their jobs, their health, their safety and their autonomy. They fear government is complicit with or ineffectual at combating the forces that threaten them. Hence, I take it as my job over the next four years to enhance economic resiliency, health outcomes and safety in our community, while having the lightest touch possible on pocketbooks and personal choices. I must also work harder at telling the story of why we have government, what good governance does for our community and how poor governance costs us all.
Prior to Tuesday I was looking forward to the successful pursuit of additional land use authority for county government to better manage our tremendous growth, enlightened jail diversion programs to reduce our jail population and repeat offenders, and investing in a green future with rail, rapid bus and purchases of park and open space. I remain committed to these goals. But, as of Tuesday night, the prospects for achieving them in the short term have dimmed.
With the $21+ billion deficit at the state level and a commitment by the Legislature to not raise taxes to address this, the unavoidable result will be deep cuts across every service line in state and, therefore, county government. The need for the jails, courts and roads that county governments provide at the behest of the state will not go away with the state dollars. With projected population growth, that need will only grow while the state dollars shrink. This will place county government in a difficult situation. We will either be the bad guys who raise property taxes (our only real option for revenue of this scale), or we will be the bad guys for cutting essential services and jobs.
This is my silver lining – we in Central Texas have an opportunity to show how to govern efficiently, effectively and equitably, even as dollars shrink and need increases. We will find collaboration with and between school districts, municipalities, universities and the business community to stretch dollars and innovation. We will show what good governance does for our community and how penny-wise and pound-foolish policies of the state cost our community more, negatively impacting not just the prisoner, the poor, the children, the elderly and the disabled. Every one of us must rise to these challenging times. We are the government.
Be the government you seek.