A much-anticipated report on threats to the Texas economy finds that inadequate spending on things like infrastructure and public education coupled with debates about socially divisive legislation like a “bathroom bill” and anti-immigration measures are putting the state’s way of life at risk.
An all-star slate of witnesses testified before the Texas House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness created by Speaker Joe Straus last year. Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, released the panel’s findings this past week, saying the report’s recommendations are much like warnings that came 25 years ago from a Fort Bend County engineer about flooding risks that later became reality during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
“That was a good analogy,” Cook said. “Here were clear threats that were laid out and were dismissed.”
Those who testified before the committee included Stan Marek of Marek Construction, David Zachry of Zachry Construction, Dallas civic leader Tom Luce, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Ross Perot, Jr, just to name a few.
"It's really their report more than our report,” Chairman Cook said of those who took the time to share their expertise.
“Multiple witnesses cited the new ‘sanctuary cities’ law as an excessive regulation that completely hinders development,” per the report.
“Marek, president and CEO of Marek Construction, revealed that the law, parts of which are currently being litigated, has had a significant impact on the construction industry due to the industry's reliance on immigrants to meet labor needs,” the report states. “There was already an ‘extreme’ shortage of workers in Southeast Texas prior to Hurricane Harvey, but after the disaster Marek observed, ‘Now that we have this terrible catastrophe, I don’t know where we’re going to get the workers to rebuild Houston.’”
During the hearings, Luce, the famed Dallas civic leader, warned lawmakers against falling into the trap of what he called the “tyranny of the urgent” rather than thinking ahead and addressing the long-term needs of the state including education, infrastructure investment, and innovation.
Those investments are critical because, Luce said, Texas will need to create 7.4 million jobs by the year 2036 just to maintain the current unemployment rate.
Echoing the sentiments of former Gov. Rick Perry, Luce said the so-called “Texas Miracle” was no accident. Instead, he said Texas’ robust economic growth has been the result of “intentional policies implemented by the state.”
“It’s up to policymakers to take these threats seriously and create solutions,” Chairman Cook said.
As he released the wide-ranging report, Chairman Cook also dropped a bombshell, saying Gov. Greg Abbott’s top aides were privately saying last year that the state’s chief executive did not want the so-called “bathroom bill” to be passed by the Legislature at the same time the governor was publicly placing it on the special session agenda.
“His former Chief of Staff (Daniel Hodge) told me in my office that he did not want this bill on his desk,” Rep. Cook said in an interview with the Quorum Report in Austin. “At the same time this was moving forward and the governor was putting it on the call.”
Chairman Cook, who is retiring, noted that leaders in industry, education, law enforcement, and other subject matter areas testified over two full days before his select committee and none of them favored such legislation.
"Hopefully if this nonsensical legislation is proposed again, House members and the business community will do what is in the best interest for all Texans,” Cook said.
Cook renewed his request that Abbott put the issue in the state’s rear-view mirror.
"Unless and until this public commitment is made by the governor, the 86th Legislature may be distracted from addressing issues important to taxpayers that could make Texas even greater -- matters such as property taxes, education and the state budget,” Cook said.
Abbott has not commented.