Cecilia Boone: Becky Sykes as Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year

 

12:00 AM CST on Friday, November 26, 2010

 

Cecilia Boone is an activist and philanthropist.

 

As we approach the biennial fracas that is the Texas legislative session, many of us will be following closely how even our wisest legislators will be able to balance a state budget that begins with a shortfall that could reach $25 billion.

But wait – what if there were a way to analyze the budget that could minimize long-term setbacks for Texas? What if there were a way to use the budget to maximize future opportunities for Texas and its citizens?

Under the leadership of Becky Sykes, the Dallas Women’s Foundation has undertaken a study unlike any done before in the United States: a gender analysis of the state budget. For this reason, I am nominating Sykes for Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year.

A gender analysis of the state budget? Does that sound like the wild-eyed raving of a bunch of fading feminists? Think again: Gender analysis gives us a clearer picture of the lives of fully half of the population – the half whose educational attainments most directly affect the education of our children, and the half whose economic security translates directly to the well-being of our children.

Sykes has helped educate a growing number of women and men about the research that proves that investments in women translate to investments in children, neighborhoods and larger communities. She calls it “The Ripple Effect,” and the Dallas Women’s Foundation will grant more than $3 million this year to produce ripples across North Texas. But more significantly, she has given all of us a tool to understand the tsunami effect of the state budget.

The report, “Gender Matters: An Analysis of the Texas State Budget 2010 ­ 2011,” looks at the way our tax dollars are spent. Because it examines how the state gives and withholds financial support, it is both a reflection of our collective values and the basis for the problems and opportunities we will face in the future.

For example, almost 1.3 million, or 54 percent of female-headed households in Texas fall into the lowest income bracket and also have the highest tax burdens. Single mothers, elderly women living alone and other female householders are paying twice the average tax rate of the remaining 80 percent of Texas households because of our tax structure. They are trying to make ends meet on less than $27,100 per year.

Add to that the fact that Texas spends less per capita on its residents than any other state. And, to make the hole even deeper, Texas ranks 44th in the nation in spending per pupil and 50th in its share of women 25 and older with at least a high school diploma. The sucking sound you hear is the whirlpool of talent and potential that we are losing.

Is this the Texas that we want? I don’t think so, but I also think that none of us has understood these previously unexamined ramifications of the budget. It took the vision, leadership and unconventional thinking of one woman to bring this to light. Yes, she had the support of an extraordinary staff, but the Dallas Women’s Foundation is not a large or wealthy organization; yet it has given us a picture of the collateral damage that some kinds of budget cuts cause. Not all cuts are equal in their effects on our futures.

This is not the time to think of any increased expenditures, but Sykes has given us and our legislators a tool to help in the painful budget process ahead. If we pay attention, I imagine we will hear that this kind of work will be replicated in other states. Think how nice it will be to be No. 1 on a list instead of No. 50.