| The Republican Party has boasted of the unprecedented super majority it received in November. Now they are trying to govern with over 2/3 in the House and nearly 2/3 in the Senate.
The old adage is you spend money on your priorities. If that is the case, then the Republican Party doesn't give a damn about students, struggling families, teachers, the elderly, people struggling with medical bills, state employees and so many more.
Scott McCown from CPPP made it clear what this budget does.
The proposed budget is merely a starting point for hearings and debate leading to the official state budget, but we already know that the cuts-only approach taken in the proposed bill would hurt Texas families, cost us jobs, and undermine our economy recovery.
"Texas needs a balanced approach that includes using the Rainy Day Fund and adding new revenue. The proposed budget uses little more than the General Revenue the Comptroller projected is available in her Biennial Revenue Estimate, leaving us at least $27 billion short of what we need to write a budget that funds what the state is doing now. With a revenue shortfall this large, as the proposed budget shows, the Legislature cannot balance the budget through cuts alone without doing terrible damage. Among many other terrible things, the proposed budget would cost almost 10,000 state jobs, would cut already inadequate provider rates for Medicaid and CHIP by 10 percent, and would underfund the Foundation School Program for public education by almost $10 billion-a cut of almost 25 percent."
McCown is right, this is a base budget. A starting point of discussion and debate. The one troubling thing we aren't talking about as the slash and burn numbers begin to roll out is, how did this happen?
Texas unemployment numbers are virtually static at 8.1%, our population has grown so much in 10 years we are getting an increase in congressional seats and Texas has the equivalent population as New York did in 1930. If all this is true, why then do we have the largest deficit in the country in both size and per capita amount?
Mismanagement of the state budget and tax code perhaps?
Fort Worth Senator Wendy Davis discussed the problem clearly and highlighted what we need to focus our collective energy on.
The Legislative Budget Board's $156.4 billion budget proposal released to House members last night will cut $31.1 billion from current spending, even before accounting for population growth. The budget, drafted for House leadership, will slash education funding by $9.8 billion, while the student population is projected to grow by 80,000 students each year. Several primary and secondary education programs are recommended for elimination, including: pre-k early start grants; Texas reading, math and science initiatives; criminal history background reviews; and science labs. Higher education is slated to lose $1.7 billion in funding including significant cuts to the Texas Equalization Grants and Texas Grants programs
statefunded financial aid. Other budget recommendations include reducing prison populations through early release of prisoners, cutting Medicaid reimbursements to doctors, hospitals and nursing home by 10 percent, and eliminating family practice and rural public health physician rotations.
"With such a dramatic budget shortfall, cuts must be made," Davis said. "But education funding should be our highest priority. We need to ensure that Texans are adequately educated so that we do not lose competitive ground at a critical time in our nation's economic recovery."
"While other states are competing for dollars to race to the top in education funding, Texas, under this budget recommendation, will be sprinting to the bottom," Davis said.
Davis said that any proposed budget that does not address the structural deficit in education funding, created in 2005 when lawmakers turned to an underperforming business franchise tax, will push the current biennial shortfall in public education funding of about $7 billion into future budgets indefinitely.
San Antonio State Representative Mike Villarreal echoes Sen. Davis and points to other troubling numbers we need to consider.
Public education will be cut by 23% under the Republican budget proposal. Funding for the Foundation School Program (FSP), the state's basic system for funding public education, would be 23% -- or $9.8 billion -- below the amount required by current state law. The All Funds budget for the School for the Blind would fall by 59%, or $55 million. The base budget would also eliminate state grant programs for pre-kindergarten, high school completion, and science labs.
"The Republican proposal means that many school districts will be forced to cut services for children, close schools, eliminate teachers, teach science without science labs, raise property taxes and make other costly decisions," said Rep. Villarreal. "I don't want this for my own children or anyone else's. Our children deserve more."
The base budget also slashes higher education. Funding for universities would decline by 9.5%, or $594 million, forcing many colleges to raise tuition. The shortfall is much larger if you take into consideration growth in student population and increases in costs. The number of students receiving TEXAS Grants, the state's main financial aid program, would fall from a total of 156,225 in 2010 and 2011 to 78,080 in 2012 and 2013. From 2011 to 2013, the number of students would decline from 86,830 to 27,135, a 69% cut. "The Republican proposal would make college more expensive, placing higher education and a good job out of reach for thousands of young Texans."
Houston area Representative, Armando Walle, also focused his concerns on education spending cuts.
"Republican lawmakers have shown their priorities with the proposed budget -- and have indicated that the needs of school children, the elderly and working families are not included in those priorities.
Our students, from pre-K to college, are suffering horrible cuts. The proposed Republican budget completely removes all state funding for pre-K or early childhood education, eliminating programs for over 100,000 children. The primary account for financing Texas public schools suffers a $9.8 billion reduction, which will surely result in teacher layoffs, overcrowded classrooms and school closures for our students. ESL students will also suffer with the complete elimination of the Limited English Proficiency Student Success Initiative.
The TEXAS Grant program and all other higher education grant programs, which have been instrumental in providing deserving students with assistance in pursuing a higher education, are cut dramatically. Economist Ray Perryman predicts that this loss will cost Texas over 1 million permanent jobs over the next two decades.
In addition to harming our children, Texas's elderly are forced to bear an overwhelming portion of the cuts. Republican budget writers have proposed a $1.57 billion reduction in nursing facility payments. The 10% rate cut to Medicaid providers adds insult to injury and will make it very difficult for many nursing homes to continue operating.
The deep budget cuts were designed to strike fear in the heart of Texans. Gov. Perry has denied that Texas is in a budget crisis and claims that the revenue numbers may change. However, it is abundantly clear that the proposed budget responds to a crisis created by Republicans and creates a crisis for all Texans."
Austin American Statesman reporter, Jason Embry, speculates the base budget is a shell game of sorts. He openly muses, "Anybody else get the feeling that part of the reason for this budget is to make lawmakers look like heroes when funding for agencies drops by, say, 7 percent instead of 14 percent once the rainy day funds are tapped and/or the comptroller ups the revenue estimate?"
As Kate Alexander points out the budget cuts are deep across the board. Of course this is the worst case scenario. Or is it?
The Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute has released a "Blueprint for a Balanced Budget". With nearly $20 billion in cuts and postponed payments, it pushed this years budget shortfall onto the next biennium. Beyond the obvious problem of failing to deal with, and increasing, our structural budget problems, it also doesn't balance the budget.
The Comptroller has repeatedly stated we have a $27 billion budget shortfall. $20 billion in cuts, simply won't fix the problem.
The Republican written, passed and executed margins tax is bringing in significantly less money than expected or projected and all the dedicated funds have been raided to balance previous budgets.
Simply, the Republican Party broke Texas and now they can't come up with a solution to fix her. Instead, we will all have to watch massive cuts on essential services and watch them impose fees (since they won't say the word tax) and shift the burden to cities and counties. The lower level government will have to do something, so they will in turn raise taxes and suppress both residential and commercial growth.
All in all, it's a mess and the only solution proposed so far is to cut our way out of the problem... not fix it.