February 20, 2003
Where the rubber meets the road

We've been talking about budget cuts as the Only Acceptable Solution for the budget crunch for awhile now, so let's talk a bit about what that's actually going to mean. Two articles from today's Chron give us some insight, starting with this one about the effects of proposed cuts on state universities:

The University of Houston's president told legislators Wednesday the school would need to increase tuition and fees by as much as 50 percent to make up for money lost in proposed state budget cuts.

UH President Arthur Smith and other educators also predicted that a lack of funds might lead to staff cuts. Smith didn't provide specific numbers, but University of Texas at Austin President Larry Faulkner said he might be forced to cut as many as 250 faculty positions and 300 administrative and support positions, and Lee Jackson, chancellor of the University of North Texas System, said the Denton campus might have to eliminate 200 faculty and 300 administrative slots.

"Faculty hiring will come to a stop, and staff reductions will begin," Smith told members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on education. "Next year's students will find fewer course sections and larger classes. Marked reductions in retention and graduation rates will come as early as the second year of the biennium (2005). Research productivity will decline significantly within two to three years."

Mark Yudof, chancellor of the UT System, added, "We face one of the most extraordinary budget crises in the history of Texas. ... There will be no free ride."

And one for the law-and-order fans, about how there's no more room in the prisons:

With state prisons nearing capacity and legislators in a belt-tightening mood, Senate leaders announced Wednesday that they are working on an emergency solution to find space for 4,000 more inmates.

But some lawmakers warned that the state cannot avoid future prison overcrowding if the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is forced to continue to cut its budget.

The state prison population is at 97.5 percent of capacity with 147,565 inmates. TDCJ spokesman Larry Todd said prisons are receiving an average of about 5,500 new inmates a month while releasing only 5,000.

We are going to stay ahead of this (crowding) problem," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst vowed.

The powers that be hope to put the problem off for awhile by shuffling people around and shortening the required stay in drug rehab from nine months to six. But other measures, ones that will undoubtedly be unpopular, are also being considered:

Dewhurst also indicated he may support an increase in parole of nonviolent offenders, if it could be done safely.

The parole rate, which had been averaging about 25 percent of those eligible, dropped to 17 or 18 percent several months ago.

"That's one of the reasons why we've had an increased pressure on our prison beds," he said.

Gerald Garrett, chairman of the state board of pardons and parole, said the board may accelerate its review of cases already slated for parole consideration and expand the pool to put more cases into the process.

Which is something I support, frankly. I've noted before that the prison industry is the only part of the Texas budget that's above average in per-capita spending, and thus it's the first place we should look for efficiencies. So this doesn't particularly bother me.

Of course, as the story notes at the end, budget cuts will likely reduce the number of parole officers "to 1,100 from 1,600, increasing their caseload from 75 to 100 parolees per officer", meaning that there will be less oversight of parolees and thus very likely a higher recidivism rate. Which just proves that not all cuts actually wind up costing us less.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 20, 2003 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

Didn't the Gov. and legislature vote themself a raise? SO, the rest of us do without so they can get a pay raise?

Posted by: B Diaz on February 22, 2003 11:51 AM

Didn't the Gov. and legislature vote themself a raise? SO, the rest of us do without so they can get a pay raise?

Posted by: B Diaz on February 22, 2003 11:52 AM