By RAZ RASMUSSEN, Ranger Reporter:
On Tuesday, Oct. 4, State Representatives Four Price and John Smithee were interviewed by Texas Tribune co-founder and CEO Evan Smith. Amarillo College hosted the event and the conversation took place at the auditorium at Polk Street.
Smith introduced the representatives and immediately began firing questions about the central topic at hand which is presidential election. According to Smith, the key issue of debate is the health care system.
“Eight of the 10 cities with the highest amount of uninsured people are in Texas,” said Smith. The reason behind that can be a few different factors combined. For the most part we have a similar ethnic variety but have a larger than average Hispanic population in Texas, which caused a higher entrance into the Medicaid programs. “Secondly we have a higher population involved in the agricultural field, which traditionally has not had the insurance that other areas have, and the third reason is a cultural issue. Many Hispanics who were in the United States were hesitant to sign up for a system just because of cultural reasons,” said Smithee.
Neither of the representatives spoke in favor of expanding the funding for Medicaid. “Every single dollar that goes to Medicaid is coming from something else,” said Smithee. “We can’t afford it. I don’t believe we know where our funds would come from,” said Price. According to Price, by the year 2050 our population will double, and already 37 percent of all state budget goes to health care without even considering all the other areas.
The conversation then turned to the idea brought forth by Donald Trump of building a wall along the entire US-Mexico border. Smithee mentioned the importance of knowing who is coming over and whether they are helping or really doing us harm. “We had a presence on the border 20 to 30 miles away but now we’re closer,” said Smithee. Both said Texas as a border-state has done a lot to barricade and secure from illegal entries.
“We’ve just graduated 250 troopers so we didn’t have to start pulling them from counties across the state of Texas for their tour down on the border, so hopefully that will help,” said Price.
Smith brought up the fact that, according to the lieutenant governor, the idea to remove the state law passed in 2001 to provide instate tuition rates to students without documentation will be a topic of conversation once again. Smithee was for it when it was created, and Price was not in office, but both representatives stated that they were in favor of reexamining the law and possibly abolishing it. Price called that law a magnet incentive for immigrants to come over illegally for this opportunity of education.
“Is free college a good idea?” Smith asked.
“It sounds good until you figure out who’s going to pay for it, and that’s us,” said Price. “I don’t think it’s practical.”
“More often than not, the funding for school tends to go to something other than school. A very large percentage is going for something other than instruction. Colleges are doing so many things now. They become entertainment,” said Smithee. “I think we need some 4-year programs that are cost-conscious because this is a real problem for a lot of the young people we represent here in this area. Just a few dollars in tuition and fee costs will make the difference on whether they will then go to college or not.”
They mentioned that there have been many “Band-Aid” years in which they fix the school district funding systems momentarily. To completely resolve the problem, it needs to be “a large budget surplus projected coming in. I don’t expect anything more than a Band-Aid approach this year,” said Smithee.
Smith’s continual question was, “We’ve put a man on the moon, I can hold my phone up and buy groceries. Those are hard things. We do those, so why can’t we solve school finance?”
“No problem is unsolvable. There’s a solution there–we just need to find it. We’ve had opportunities in the past but the legislature didn’t do it,” said Smithee. “We have made an oath to the constitution to have an efficient educational system. It might take a while, but we should set a target date to totally fix the system,” he said.