Budget crisis, who will have to sacrifice? Why the poor and middle class, of course

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Election 2010, Taxes, The Budget, The Economy at 2:00 pm by wcnews

The AP’s April Castro has an article in the Dallas Morning News, Texas in downturn; candidates offer few specifics, on what Democratic challenger Bill White and GOP Gov. Rick Perry are thinking and saying about the massive budget shortfall facing the next governor. But the article starts off by pointing out what many falsely believe - that the Texas economy has escaped what many other US states have had to endure. (Right now it’s accepted that the budget shortfall will be $18 billion, but there rumors it may goes as high as $22 billion).

Texas has been hailed as a lone bright star in an otherwise dreadful economy, but in a few months state lawmakers will finally come face to face with the fiscal bloodbath that has spilled over the rest of the nation.


“It’s [the massive budget shortfall] absolutely the elephant in the room,” said University of Texas political scientist Jim Henson.”Nobody can realistically declare any kind of initiative because there’s no money to do anything with and nobody can realistically talk about doing anything to get any new money.”

The state budget shortfall, which some estimates have pegged as high as $18 billion for the next two-year cycle, will be the driving force behind almost every decision the Legislature makes when it convenes in January. From state parks and highways to health care programs for the poor and disabled, state agencies are bracing for the hatchet to fall.

In essence Texas has escaped nothing, they are just have to deal with it later than other states because of their two-year budget cycle. Each man will certainly have a different way of dealing with the shortfall.

Perry says he recognizes the severity of the shortfall but says he wants to see the official estimate of incoming revenues, expected in January, before discussing solutions.

“I’m not Pollyanna. We’re not sitting around saying we don’t have to worry about this. Sure, we’re working on it,” Perry said.

Perry did offer one promise to voters focusing on the budget: “I’m going to balance the budget without raising their taxes.”

White says he can’t lay out detailed plans now because he plans on forging a common vision with other legislative leaders. He says he doesn’t want to put “preconditions” on those negotiations by staking out hard positions during his campaign.

“I’m not being coy,” White said. “If I want to be the leader of this state, I can’t come and say that I’m going to deal with the lieutenant governor, speaker of the House … with all these preconditions. That’s not the way I was as mayor (of Houston) and that’s not the way I’ll be as governor.

“It’s going to have to be a team effort.”

In EOW’s estimation there are some key differences between how White and Perry would deal with the shortfall. White would likely work in a much more cooperative spirit with the legislature. Not being a liberal, but a moderate Democrat, he would likely trudge a more “middle” ground and, as has been said here before would be, at least, willing to consider a tax increase if the legislature sent one to him.

Perry on the other hand will do what he did in 2003, work with the far-right of his party to craft a budget full of schemes, tricks and massive fee increases. Therefore a sore spot with the media in Texas must be pointed out. When speaking to the Governor about the pending massive budget shortfall, and he states he will not raise taxes, there must be an immediate follow-up question - will you raise fees on Texans by billions of dollars as you did in 2003? From this point on it’s just negligence, or worse, if they don’t.

While this is an important subject in the Governor’s race, a more substantive question should be asked to those who will actually be writing the budget next year. We’ve recently seen what Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) proposed regarding transportation. And on the House side here’s what the Ways and Means Chair Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville) had to say.

“The budget will dominate the session and the cuts will dominate the session,” Oliveira said.

Since the news is not necessarily a big surprise, lawmakers have already hammered out how they’re going to fix a potential $18-billion budget shortfall for the next budget cycle.

Oliveira said making up that current deficit will be first up in January for legislators, whether it’s through emergency supplemental appropriations or making more cuts.

“If we’re not going to raise taxes, then we’re going to make significant cuts in state government. Cuts that to me are going to be very painful and hurt a lot of middle class and poor Texans,” Oliveira said.

It is amazing that all the sacrifice in Texas must come from the middle class and the poor under all the scenarios mentioned, thus far, by these committee chairs. What will those who have, and have profited so much, in Texas have to sacrifice in the upcoming budget? That has never even been mentioned. Essentially they are being given a free ride, again. (Oliveira held hearings earlier in the year regarding ending some tax exemptions, but that talk has gone away as of late).

Texas has always been a state where those with little pay much, and those with much pay little. It doesn’t look like that’s likely to change any time soon.

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