We won’t get Jim Pitts’ bare bones budget outline till late tonight, so as not to be a buzzkill on the Perry
coronation inauguration. We did, however, get an opening bid from the ideological purists, and while it’s not worth looking at in details, because life is too short and a mind is a terrible thing to waste, there are a couple of things worth mentioning.
Education will have to bear the brunt of budget cuts, conservative legislators said Tuesday, because the federal government has left them no other options.
“Indeed, Texans can thank President Obama and the Congress led by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the passage of (federal health care reform), which is directly responsible for the massive reductions that are required in other areas of the budget, and particularly public and higher education,” according to the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, which released its plan for reducing state spending in the face of a significant budget shortfall.
Federal health care reform prevents states from reducing eligibility and benefits for people who use Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“We are forced to tinker at the edges of those programs and focus disproportionately on public and higher education,” said state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who led the budget task force with state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa.
The state’s budget shortfall ranges from $15 billion to $27 billion depending upon who is doing the counting. The conservative legislators lay the cause of that shortfall mainly at the feet of the Obama administration and the economy, dismissing the legislators’ own role in digging the hole.
You know, like giant unaffordable property tax cuts. I took the liberty of running these guys’ excuses through a reality filter, and this is what it gave me:
I ran out of gas. I, I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts. IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD.
Much better. Moving on:
The group found $18 billion in potential savings without touching transportation, public safety or criminal justice. Among their suggestions are the following:
— Lift the elementary classroom size from 22 students to 25: $558 million
— Eliminate the pre-kindergarten grant program: $209 million
— Institute a 10 percent pay cut for state employees and two-day furlough per month : $1.7 billion
— Reduce the state’s contribution to health care for dependents of employees: $108 million
Let there be no doubt that there are two types of people in this state: Those who will be required to sacrifice extensively for the benefit of others, and those for whom any sacrifice is too great. State employees, who as a commenter notes are effectively getting a 20% pay cut under this plan, are an example of the former; Dan Patrick and his untouchable property tax cuts are an example of the latter. There is no class war in Texas – it’s long been over, and Dan Patrick’s team won.
As for the education-related cuts, you will note that there is no discussion of any possible effects on student performance, or possible long-term costs to the state as a result of any potential drop in student performance. It’s a lot easier to make proposals like these if you pretend there are no consequences. The only question I have is why stop at simply raising the class size limit? Why not go whole hog and impose class size minimums? Just imagine how many schools we could close, how many teachers and other school employees we could fire, and how much money we could save if we mandated that every class must contain at least 30 students? Or 40, or 50, or hell, 100? The answer, obviously, is that even guys like Tommy Williams and Warren Chisum recognize that there might be some bad things resulting from such a decree, and that the accompanying savings would not be considered worth it by everyone else. Their hope is that the ill effects of their proposal will be small enough to be “acceptable”, or – better yet – won’t be apparent for a few years, long enough for the facts to be fudged in the retelling. Hey, it beats having to make justifications now.
UPDATE: House Democrats will give their response to the Pitts budget tomorrow morning at 9 AM.
UPDATE: The Trib has an early peek.