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Why we can’t just cut our way out of the budget deficit

For one thing, there’s very little fat, and not much discretionary spending in the biggest budget items like health and human services.

Of the $23 billion in state dollars appropriated in the current budget for health and human services programs, $20 billion is “restricted” because of state law, constitutional provisions or federal laws and regulations.

That restricted money is not necessarily off-limits. But trimming from the biggest pieces — the $17 billion in state dollars that goes to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program — could exacerbate the effects of the budget cuts because some of the $30 billion in federal dollars would be lost as a result.

Legislators also will not be allowed to reduce the rolls of those programs by making eligibility criteria or application rules more stringent, as they did in 2003 when the state faced a similar budget conundrum. This year’s federal health care overhaul prohibited such moves, said Anne Dunkelberg , associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans.

[…]

Another vulnerable area of the budget could be the state programs that seek to protect children and elderly people from abuse and neglect, said state Sen. Bob Deuell .

“I’m not telling you I want to; I’m just giving examples” of areas that aren’t restricted, said Deuell, a Greenville Republican . “It’s going to be painful. I pray every day the state tax revenue goes up.”

And he worries that beds at state mental health hospitals could be eliminated. For the first round of trims, state officials considered cutting hospital capacity at four locations but decided against it.

“They don’t have enough beds as it is,” said Deuell, a member of the Senate budget-writing team who is also vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

With all due respect to Sen. Deuell and his concerns, which I have no doubt are genuine and heartfelt, he does have the power to do something about revenue. Just pushing back against the head-in-the-sand mindset of some of his Senate colleagues about eliminating tax expenditures and sales tax exemptions would be a start. I mean, if you think it’s preferable to allow tattoo parlors and bottled water to be tax-free than it is to provide basic levels of service to sick and needy children and elderly folks, well, that’s your right, but don’t expect me to light a candle for your soul. What bugs the crap out of me in all of this is the impression that many legislators want to create that their hands are tied, they have no options, etc etc etc. Bullshit. They chose to carve a huge hole in the budget four years ago with that ginormous irresponsible property tax cut (by the way, revenues from the business margins tax are falling short of projections again), they can choose to do something to fix it.

I don’t mean to pick on Sen. Deuell, who I believe does care about this, unlike some of his Republican colleagues. But having your heart in the right place only carries you so far. There’s been an awful lot of concern expressed by just about everyone in office or running for office about how big a tax burden people have during these tough economic times, and how much of a hardship it would be to get anyone to pay anything more. Well, budget cuts impose burdens on a lot of people, too. The burden on them is often far greater than a $200 hike to Dan Patrick’s property taxes would be, too. Yet they’re expected to shoulder that burden entirely, to the point where even mentioning the possibility of an alternative is an abomination. That’s just wrong.

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2 Comments

  1. Jim B says:

    The R’s have done the job they’ve been planning since Reagan was elected. Slash revenue by cutting taxes, let spending continue to rise, create a budgetary train wreck, and then CUT, CUT, CUT. Texas is already almost dead last in state spending per capita.

    Isn’t there a basic level of service we expect from State Government?

    Let’s start with eliminating the “Guv’s slush fund” also known as the Texas Enterprise Fund. He’s dished out almost 1/2 $Billion since it was created.

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