March 22, 2003
Meanwhile, back in Austin

Bombs may be dropping in Baghdad, but the business of the state must go on. A couple of days ago, a bill was filed in the Texas Lege that would have profound effects on how the state spends money.

House budget leaders have filed a series of bills to make deep budget cut proposals permanent in law -- cuts in such areas as health care for the poor, state employee retirement benefits and death benefits for police officers killed in the line of duty.

The legislation has the potential to dramatically shrink state government while putting considerable policy-making power in the hands of 29 budget writers.


The most sweeping changes would curtail long-standing health and human services to young, old and disabled Texans. These include cutting funding for tuberculosis prevention and control, closing state mental hospitals and schools for the retarded, eliminating Medicaid funding for substance abuse and cutting funding for foster care by up to a quarter.

It's hard to convey just how monumentally stupid such a plan would be. Tuberculosis is a contagious disease that would have the potential to infect many Texans if left unchecked. Closing mental hospitals and schools for the retarded will put a huge burden on affected families. The whole point of a social safety net is to help prevent families burdened by illness or the need to care for someone who needs special help from going under.

Look at your own situation. How would you be affected if you were suddenly given full responsibility for someone who needed round-the-clock care? Could you afford to hire someone? Would you or your spouse have to quit working? Some people can make the adjustment, but everyone needs some amount of help to survive. The state of Texas is considering cutting off much of that help, all because no one in power wants to confront reality. "The people won't let us impose new taxes," they say.

Well, the people may not have gotten that memo. Three letter writers today all stated the need for a state income tax, in conjunction with a reworking of our hopelessly broken overall state tax structure. The people already know that attempting to balance the budget without any tax increases is pure folly. There's less opposition to an income tax than you'd think, and one that was properly designed and sold would probably be less controversial than what's currently being proposed.

But that takes leadership, and that's in typically short supply. Until Governor Perry and his cohorts feel that there's a bigger political price to be paid by their current course of action - and polls aren't showing that right now - we'll continue to get more of the same.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 22, 2003 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack