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Matthew Waller: State Senate faces tough choices on cuts В» Abilene Reporter-News
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Matthew Waller: State Senate faces tough
choices on cuts
Matthew Waller is covering the Legislature for Scripps Texas Newspapers and works in Austin.
Contact him at [email protected] or via Twitter @waller_matthew.
Posted March 16, 2013 at 11:42 p.m.
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Over the past few months, cutting more state funds hasn’t found much of a place in
budget writers’ discussions.
Last week the Senate Finance Committee approved the draft of a budget for state
government that now goes to the Senate floor.
Most of the budget’s highlights focus on what was added, such as a $226 million
increase for community mental health and substance abuse services and mental
health waiting list reductions at the Department of State Health Services. There would
be a $746 million increase for higher education and $6 million in general revenue for
50 full-time employees to handle veterans’ issues, according to a statement from the
chief budget writer.
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At one point in conversations and interviews I’ve conducted about the budget, I was
referred to a document called the “Real Texas Budget Solutions: 2013 and Beyond”
from the conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
The March 2012 document details how to cut “$1.1 billion in 2012-13 and $8.3 billion
in 2014-15 and reducing the future spending growth.”
The document contains standard conservative fodder, including making more charter
schools, which state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has been hard at work on in SB 2,
and getting “out from under federal health care and other welfare mandates.” No
Medicaid expansion there.
The document suggests undoing the practice of using special funds to balance the
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Matthew Waller: State Senate faces tough choices on cuts В» Abilene Reporter-News
budget without spending the money for its intended purpose, a suggestion the
Legislature has broadly embraced.
The document does, however, suggest some seemingly drastic moves, such as
killing general revenue funding for the Texas Commission on the Arts and the Texas
Historical Commission. The governor’s office does not go unscathed.
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Talmadge Heflin, director of the policy foundation’s Center for Fiscal Policy, said
there is “absolutely” more room for cuts.
He said the Senate’s version of the draft bill that made it through committee is about
a billion dollars more expensive than he had hoped for.
He hoped the bill would have about $2 billion to $2.5 billion to work with to cover any
mandates from public school funding lawsuits.
Those lawsuits argue that the state has not adequately or equitably funded public
schools.
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“I believe they made or are making an effort to hold the line where they can” on
spending, Heflin said. However, “the things that we called on them to make cuts in
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The revenue available to lawmakers has seen about a 12.4 percent increase from the
last budgeting session, according to the state comptroller’s reports.
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Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said the budget his committee approved is still
conservative.
He said the general revenue spending growth is lower than the spending growth
targets he set out to come under at the outset.
“With a state that’s growing as fast as our state is, I think that’s quite an
accomplishment,” Williams said.
Naturally, the progressive-minded Center for Public Policy Priorities condemns the
Senate version of the budget for being far too stingy.
The draft budget “is $3 billion below that �bare bones’ current services line, meaning
$3 billion (3 percent) more in cuts to current services,” Eva De Luna Castro, a senior
budget analyst, wrote on a blog post for her organization. “These cuts could still be
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avoided if House and Senate budget-writers are willing to use remaining General
Revenue and the Rainy Day Fund.”
The Rainy Day Fund, fueled by oil and gas moneys and expected to be worth $11.8
billion at the end of the next two years, has been a sacrosanct fund for conservatives,
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Matthew Waller: State Senate faces tough choices on cuts В» Abilene Reporter-News
3/18/13 11:21 AM
but they have been willing to tap into it for one-time roads and water funding.
Castro lists “Priority 2” items that were left unfunded, including “$135 million for a 50
cent hourly wage increase for community care workers; $154 million to expand
community care and prevent waiting lists from getting longer; $24 million for Children
with Special Health Care Needs; $19 million for child abuse/neglect prevention
programs,” and the list goes on.
It’s not an easy position to be in as a conservative legislator. They have had dozens
of committee meetings with people bringing forward financial needs — for veterans,
for mental health, for education.
The foundation report is careful to refer to agencies and programs it believes are
superfluous. People, however, are behind agencies and programs. Cutting them
shouldn’t be done lightly, if it should be done at all.
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Matthew Waller: State Senate faces tough choices on cuts В» Abilene Reporter-News
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Matthew Waller: State Senate faces tough choices on cuts В» Abilene Reporter-News
3/18/13 11:21 AM
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