April 01, 2004
Strayhorn smacks Perry again

I'm beginning to think that I ought to just create a template for posts about when Comptroller Strayhorn rips the Governor a new one. For sure I'd get at least weekly usage out of it.

"It's time to stop the hemorrhaging. It's time to put children first," said Strayhorn in a speech to county administrators.

Strayhorn said Perry should call lawmakers into a special session to address school finance and to use $583 million in unbudgeted funds to restore health care cuts made during the 2003 session. She noted that since September, 119,000 children have lost their coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Plan and that a new asset test being considered by the Health and Human Services Commission could throw thousands more off the program.

"It is unconscionable that we're dead last in percent of children on health insurance," said Strayhorn.

She criticized Perry, saying he let months of inactivity pass while the school system suffers.

"I say his learning curve should now be complete, and if not, we need new leadership willing not to delay, not to cajole, not to offer patchwork proposals packaged in lofty titles," said Strayhorn.

Throwing children off of the CHIP program ranks as the most egregious thing the legislature did last year (yes, even more than redistricting), and as this op-ed by Mayor White and County Judge Eckels makes clear, puts paid to the biggest lie from the 78th Lege, which was the "no new taxes" claim. (I've put the whole thing beneath the More link - it's good reading.) Maybe the state didn't directly raise any taxes, but by shirking its responsibilities it greatly increased the financial burdens of every city and county. One way or another, you're paying for it. And now they want to build off that success by restricting those cities' and counties' abilities to raise revenue. Be very, very afraid.

On a lighter note, the best part of Strayhorn-attacks-Perry stories to me is the response from whichever Perry flack drew the short straw that day:

Kathy Walt, press secretary to Perry, said the governor is working to build consensus for a special session on public schools.

"Never have shrill negative attacks or name-calling educated a child, created a job, cut property taxes or solved any problem," said Walt.

Is there a class you can take to learn how to say things like that with a straight face? I need to sign up for one of them.

Unhappy fourth birthday for CHIP in Texas

We are seriously concerned about the almost 20,000 Harris County children who have lost their health coverage under the Texas Children's Health Insurance Program, and we think others should be, too. Particularly local taxpayers. It's time to restore funding for this program.

Parents are telling stories about their inability to buy their children's medications for asthma or diabetes. If their children play sports, parents worry about what would happen if their kids break an arm. As enrollment in CHIP continues to drop, more children will go untreated for chronic conditions and then end up in crowded emergency rooms for care.

In Harris County, 19,971 children have lost their coverage since cuts took effect on Sept. 1, 2003 enough children to pack Toyota Center. Statewide, more than 118,000 Texas children have been dropped from the CHIP program. If you could put them in Reliant Stadium, they would pack all 70,000 seats, then fill up the entire field and passageways before spilling out into the parking lots.

Parents of children who lost health insurance well understand the impact of cuts to CHIP. If you are a Harris County/Houston taxpayer, know that these cuts have an impact on you, too.

We are also concerned about the impact of these cuts on local taxpayers. For every $1 invested in CHIP, Texas receives $2.59 in federal matching dollars. As a result of CHIP cuts, Harris County alone will lose $139 million in state and federal matching dollars. This loss of funding shifts costs to health-care delivery systems and property tax payers.

Without any federal or state support, working families who lose CHIP coverage return to city or county health clinics or emergency rooms for care. That means local taxpayers pay 100 percent of the costs. Already, systems are feeling the burden. The Harris County Hospital District reports a $36 million reduction in funds because of cuts in CHIP

Cuts to preventive care put additional strain on overcrowded emergency rooms, already on divert-status more than 30 percent of the time. If local ERs are full of children without health insurance, there is a greater risk that trauma beds are not available to handle true emergencies. This, too, is costly for Harris County residents. According to the Harris County Hospital District, the cost of preventive treatment for a child's mild asthma attack ranges from $94 to $103 using oxygen or a nebulizer and medicines. Compare that to the $9,209 cost of treating an asthma patient who ends up in the Harris County Hospital District's emergency room with full symptoms that cause him/her to be hospitalized for an average stay of three days.

More than $469 million in state dollars are available right now for the restoration of health and human services. Much of this funding is from federal fiscal-relief funds provided to states because of budget shortfalls on health care. These funds should be used to restore health and human services, including CHIP.

The Campaign to Restore CHIP, a broad-based coalition of more than 1,200 organizations and individuals across Texas, is working for the full restoration of the Children's Health Insurance Program in Texas. The local effort is being spearheaded by the 16-county, 650-member, Gulf Coast CHIP Coalition. Priorities include restoring full eligibility to CHIP and restoring dental, vision and hospice services to the CHIP benefits package.

CHIP is a wise investment for Texas children and Texas taxpayers. All Texans should feel proud about the number of children we signed up for this insurance. Before cuts took effect, Texas had the most effective CHIP roll-out anywhere in the United States, with more than 500,000 children signed up for coverage from April 1, 2000, to Sept. 1, 2003.

April 1 is the fourth birthday of the Texas Children's Health Insurance Program. But, a pall has settled over the celebration. We believe the date should be "Restore CHIP Day." Give a gift to Texas taxpayers this year. Let's cut the cake, not the kids.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 01, 2004 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

It's time to put children first?

Maybe it's just me, but it seems to me that the political climate has been to "put children first" -- at darned near the expense of everyone else -- for years. Darned near everything is justified with "for the children." Usually that phrase is used when they are about to either pick your pocket a little more or when they are justifying the erosion of civil liberties.

Maybe I've been on another planet for the last decade or so, but it seems like pandering to kids and their parents has been the standard M.O. for politicians for years -- at least those who aren't in the back pocket of Big Business.

When I hear a politician use a catch phrase like "children first," I am reminded of that scene in Blazing Saddles where Hedy Lamarr (that's Hedley) says "Head them off at the pass? I HATE that cliche!" before shooting the other guy in the foot.

Posted by: Tim on April 1, 2004 12:32 PM

Charles: That line you mention is a pretty cheap ripoff of a devastating line used by Cheryl Mills to defend President Clinton years ago, in which she said something along the lines of "What you're doing here won't feed a hungry child."

So far as I can recall, she said it with a very straight face.

I would guess a fair number of readers here were nodding affirmatively and gravely at the time. So it goes.

Posted by: kevin whited on April 1, 2004 12:57 PM

Kevin, thanks for the clarification. I don't remember having heard that before. Of course, if it is a riff on something used to defend President Clinton (whether knowing or not), that makes it even funnier to me.

Tim, I understand what you're saying here, but if it helps, then focus on the money. What Perry et al did is costing us all money. And c'mon, as a matter of public policy, having lots of unhealthy children running around is a bad thing in many ways. I agree that "for the children" is a justification that's often used cynically and exploitatively, but in this case I think it's used correctly.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on April 1, 2004 1:05 PM

I agree about the "costing us money" part. A federal government that shifts unfunded mandate to the states, or a state that does the same to cities, counties and school districts is, in fact, a tax hike in sheep's clothing.

But I admit to being turned off when I hear the "for the children" stuff. It may well be true in some cases, and in this case in fact, but just using that phrase turns me off politically.

Posted by: Tim on April 1, 2004 1:40 PM