The GOP in Texas is facing an ideological conundrum. After passing last sessions austerity budget – which actually went into effect during a revenue boom, that the Comptroller didn’t estimate – Texas now has a bunch of money in surplus. Much of the money now in surplus is the money that was cut, unnecessarily we now know, from public education and the safety net. But those areas have always been seen as expendable by the GOP.
Out of fairness alone the areas that had to sacrifice during the bad times, should be taken care of first once good times return. (Because that is why we cut those budgets, or was it because of ideology?) But fairness doesn’t enter into the equation when ideology is the determining factor. That’s why in the budgets released by the House and Senate yesterday they’re cutting even more in their current budgets, Initial Budget Proposals Include Cuts We Can’t Afford.
Both budget proposals for 2014-15 include cuts to the barebones budget passed in 2011. That means cuts to schools that have already laid off teachers and increased classroom sizes, cuts to health care when fewer doctors are accepting Medicaid patients, and retaining the 2011 cuts to college student financial aid.
Rather than take the opportunity to undo 2011 cuts, both chambers also left over $6 billion in General Revenue unspent, and all $11.8 billion of the Rainy Day Fund untouched.
It’s important to note, though, that these budget proposals are just a starting point. Over the next several months, the Legislature will hold hearings, votes, and debates that will end in a 2014-15 budget. Based on what we learned today, there is room for A LOT of improvement to the budget.
As the budget process continue, we’ll keep you updated on each proposal and what they mean for you, and for Texas.
The Texas Observer has more, Proposed Senate Budget Maintains Last Session’s Cuts.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told reporters that the budget totals adequately provided opportunities for one of the nation’s fastest growing population. “To maintain that opportunity we need to make sure we keep our spending under control, fund our priorities and keep our taxes low,” Dewhurst said. “We can continue to provide opportunity to everyone. All of our children can get access to great education in public education and higher education.”
Dewhurst listed education, building roads and Medicaid as the state’s top priorities. Those are state programs that can’t be cut much more, said Eva De Luna Castro, a budget analyst for the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities.
She said for the most part the proposed budget continues all the cuts from the 2011 legislative session, which she said is absurd given the needs of the state and the almost $12 billion sitting in the Rainy Day Fund. Castro said the state should use the rainy day fund to provide proper services for Texans. “The average, normal person tries to strive to get back to where they used to be,” Castro said.
Linda Bridges, president of the American Federation of Teachers, echoed Castro’s sentiments that the funds don’t truly confront enrollment growth in public schools because they just maintain the $500 per pupil cuts from 2011.
“Texas can do better,” Bridges said. “The money is there. What’s needed is the will to make the needed investment in our schoolchildren and our state’s future.”
In the Statesman article on the proposals state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) is leaving the door open for changes.
“Keep in mind, this is our base budget,” said Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who chairs the Higher Education Committee. He said he would advocate for additional funding and called the Texas Grants program in particular “critically important.”
“This is not going to be the budget that passes the Senate,” Seliger predicted.
That’s what most Texans, not on the right fringe, are hoping will eventually transpire. But it won’t without pressure. More from the Texas Tribune, Despite Surplus, House and Senate Offer Lean Budgets.
Both proposals drew swift criticism from Democrats and education groups, but Republican lawmakers in both chambers stressed that the budgets are merely starting points.
“The filing of this budget will allow the House to formally begin a discussion about Texas’ priorities,” state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “This bill recognizes the demands of population growth on public schools and Medicaid, and steadfastly maintains the House’s commitment to fiscal discipline.”
State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said his chamber’s base budget was developed to “start as close as we can to where we ended in the last session so that this legislature can make the spending decisions.”
The budget process picked up steam last week when Comptroller Susan Combs announced that Texas had $101.4 billion available in general revenue and $11.8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. Both the House and Senate proposals leave the Rainy Day Fund untouched.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank in Austin, has said the state needs to spend $96 billion in general revenue to keep state services at the current level and $108 billion to restore the cuts from the last session. The proposals laid out Monday are more apt for the Texas of three or four years ago, said Eva DeLuna Castro, a budget expert with the group.
“We’re trying to write a budget for 2014 and 2015, and this comes nowhere near what’s needed to fix our schools, ensure access to health care and do something about congestion on our roads — the basic things,” Castro said.
And Paul Burka had this to say about yesterday’s proposals, ” there is no public policy in this state; there is only ideology”.
The problem is that it’s hard to see where the fulcrum is going to be on getting a budget passed that restores funding to public education and the safety net without enormous public pressure. Are there enough GOP members in each chamber that are afraid of being challenged by a traditional Republican in the primary to actually vote to restore funding? Because that’s likely what the deciding factor will be. Are the GOP legislators more afraid of a challenge from the left or from the right. For the funding to be restored it must be fear of a challenge from the left.
Again, many are hoping this is an opening gambit, but don’t be so sure. Only fear of not being reelected and ideology can make members of the legislature choose one session, with little money, they must cut public education and the safety net, and then in the next session, with a surplus of money decide not to replace the cuts, and cut taxes for the wealthy instead.