The Pitts budget

Here it is, and if it is a shock to you, you haven’t been paying attention.

The House’s starting-point budget proposal would provide for a total budget of $156.4 billion in state and federal money, a decrease of $31.1 billion, or nearly 17 percent, from the current budget period.

The budget proposes nearly $5 billion less for public education below the current base funding. It is also $9.8 billion less than what is needed to cover current funding formulas, which includes about 170,000 additional students entering the public school system during the next two-year budget cycle. Pre-kindergarten would be scaled back.

Higher education funding, including student financial aid, would be slashed.

The proposal wouldn’t provide funding for all the people projected to be eligible for the Medicaid program and would slash Medicaid reimbursement rates for health care providers.

Community supervision programs would be cut and a Sugar Land prison unit would be closed. Funding would be eliminated for four community colleges including Brazosport near Lake Jackson.

Thousands of state jobs would be cut.

I’m not sure where to provide a link for this, because HB1 has not been filed yet, according to TLO. If I understand correctly, Pitts’ outline was just give via printouts. Be that as it may, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that this isn’t a bill. Rep. Pitts’ stated objective was to show what the budget would look like if there were no increases in revenue and the Rainy Day Fund were unused. The Senate is working on its own budget outline, which by all reports does assume that the Rainy Day Fund will be tapped for some amount, so it will be different.

Most importantly, now everybody, including all those freshman Republican legislators, know exactly what they’re up against. No more hiding behind vague and meaningless platitudes about “cutting waste” and “smaller government”, because this is what all that means. Now is the time for everyone who will be on the business end of these proposals to make their displeasure known, starting with school districts.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Superintendent David Anthony estimated that his district could lose $80 million under the budget blueprint.
“That would significantly impact everything we do in the district,” he said.

The state’s third largest school district has already cut more than $70 million, including some 800 positions, over the past four years.

“We’re very lean already,” Anthony said. “Future cuts will impact the services we provide. We want to maintain quality. If you continue additional pressure and cuts, eventually it breaks.”

Scaling back pre-kindergarten programs would deliver a big low for Houston ISD because about 80 percent of the students come from low-income families, district spokesman Jason Spencer said.

Here’s more on that:

Lawmakers, though, would have to rewrite school-funding formulas because the House leaders’ plan falls $9.8 billion short of obligations to school districts and charter schools.

“They’ve got to pass a major school finance bill with major cuts in it,” said school finance expert Dan Casey, who predicts renewed interest in a lawsuit against the state “if you see cuts of this magnitude and no changes in standards.”

The House budget would push Texas into uncharted territory, he said.

“There isn’t anybody – even the more veteran legislators – that have been through those kinds of reductions,” Casey said.


Under the House plan, public schools, which teach reading and arithmetic to future workers, would receive no extra money to cover enrollment increases. Nor would districts be given more state funds, as currently required, to offset declining local property values.

“That’s catastrophic for any fast-growing districts, like a Frisco or a Lewisville,” said Casey, a former adviser to the Legislature on school finance who now has a thriving private consulting practice.

The budget would eliminate funds for the nation’s largest experiment in teacher merit pay. Also zeroed out would be the main remedial program created by Texas in 1999, as it required students in certain grades to pass achievement tests to be promoted.

“You’re going to have the same rising standards and less financial help for the support that will make students successful,” Casey said.

Somewhat bizarrely, both Rick Perry and David Dewhurst made claims about protecting the vulnerable and providing a “world-class education” in their inauguration speeches. Neither of those things is remotely possible under the Pitts outline. The question is what happens next. The answer, as always, is to make your voices heard. I know of one group in HD134, organizing via Facebook, that’s meeting to “petition support from our newly elected representative, Sarah Davis, to support funding for public education”. I have no idea what effect that or any other such effort may have, but if you don’t make it clear to your Reps and Senators that you didn’t vote for this and will vote against anyone who supports these kinds of cuts, they’ll have no reason to think there’s any problem with doing so. We have 132 days to make sure they know. Reactions from various Democratic lawmakers are beneath the fold. The Trib has more on the budget in general, while Grits, Postcards, and the Trib again discuss the criminal justice impact of the outline, and the LBB webpage now has some budget docs.

Sen. Wendy Davis:

Senator Wendy Davis said the first draft of Texas’ 2012-13 budget is wrong for Texas.

The Legislative Budget Board’s $156.4 billion budget proposal released to House members last night will cut $31.1 billion from current spending, even before accounting for population growth. The budget, drafted for House leadership, will slash education funding by $9.8 billion, while the student population is projected to grow by 80,000 students each year. Several primary and secondary education programs are recommended for elimination, including: pre-k early start grants; Texas reading, math and science initiatives; criminal history background reviews; and science labs. Higher education is slated to lose $1.7 billion in funding including significant cuts to the Texas Equalization Grants and Texas Grants programs –state-funded financial aid. Other budget recommendations include reducing prison populations through early release of prisoners, cutting Medicaid reimbursements to doctors, hospitals and nursing home by 10 percent, and eliminating family practice and rural public health physician rotations.

“With such a dramatic budget shortfall, cuts must be made,” Davis said. “But education funding should be our highest priority. We need to ensure that Texans are adequately educated so that we do not lose competitive ground at a critical time in our nation’s economic recovery.”

Under current funding levels, Texas is already near the bottom in education funding per pupil (Texas ranks 44th nationally), is last nationally in the percentage of adults with a high school diploma, and is among the bottom in high school completion rates across the country.

“While other states are competing for dollars to race to the top in education funding, Texas, under this budget recommendation, will be sprinting to the bottom,” Davis said.

Davis said that any proposed budget that does not address the structural deficit in education funding, created in 2005 when lawmakers turned to an underperforming business franchise tax, will push the current biennial shortfall in public education funding of about $7 billion into future budgets “We have to have an honest and transparent conversation about the education funding shortfall, which is cheating our schoolchildren while simultaneously overburdening small and medium sized businesses in Texas,” Davis said.

Davis said that as cuts are proposed to strip critical services to educate our children and to address some of the state’s most vulnerable, lawmakers should do what they can to lessen that burden in other ways. Protecting Texans’ pocketbooks through lowering homeowners insurance rates, lowering residential electricity rates and by establishing fair rules to prevent the devastating impacts of predatory lending should also be considered, Davis said.

Regardless of the bleak budget picture, Davis called on fellow lawmakers to work to positively change course for future Texas families and to address other issues that will have a very real impact on their household finances and their quality of life.

Rep. Garnet Coleman:

Sometime today, Chairman Pitts will file HB 1, the General Appropriations Bill. That bill will showcase an ideology that is heavy on cuts, with zero dollars taken from the rainy day fund. This is our starting point for the next 133 days. How we choose to handle this budget will define us as lawmakers.

A $27 billion shortfall is sure to affect all of 24 million Texans, and Democrats will push for the most honest, open, and accountable budget process the Texas Legislature has seen in decades. Texans will soon see these budget cuts in the quality of their roads, their community colleges, their services for seniors and children, and their local hospitals. Because of this, all Members must be informed as to how these cuts will affect their own constituents.

Unfortunately, this is not a one-time problem; it’s a disturbing trend. The majority has long been reluctant to speak plainly with Texans about the real challenges we face. Tax dollars brought in by the tax swap scheme put into place by Governor Perry in 2006 will keep coming up short, just as they have over the past five years. Recession or no recession, Texas now has a perpetual, built-in budget shortfall.

The majority was also less than candid about the stimulus funds we used to plug a multi-billion budget hole two years ago. Using simple and shallow rhetoric, they have now convinced many Texans that the budget shortfall can be solved easily and without real impact. However, over the next few weeks as educators, doctors, and business leaders make their way across the Capitol to speak on behalf of their students, patients, and businesses, the majority will be forced to answer why Texans must short our investment in the next generation and in the future Texas workforce.

House Democrats will fight to see that Texas keeps its commitment to those essential functions of government upon which every Texan depends.

Rep. Mike Villarreal:

Following the delivery of the state’s base budget for 2012-2013, Representative Mike Villarreal strongly criticized the Republican proposal’s cuts in critical education programs.

“The Republican budget amounts to giving up on our goals of graduating more students and giving our children a world-class education,” said Rep. Villarreal. “Texas can do better than this. We must do better than this if we want to compete with other states and foreign economies for high-skilled, high-paying jobs.”

Public education will be cut by 23% under the Republican budget proposal. Funding for the Foundation School Program (FSP), the state’s basic system for funding public education, would be 23% — or $9.8 billion — below the amount required by current state law. The All Funds budget for the School for the Blind would fall by 59%, or $55 million. The base budget would also eliminate state grant programs for pre-kindergarten, high school completion, and science labs.

“The Republican proposal means that many school districts will be forced to cut services for children, close schools, eliminate teachers, teach science without science labs, raise property taxes and make other costly decisions,” said Rep. Villarreal. “I don’t want this for my own children or anyone else’s. Our children deserve more.”

The base budget also slashes higher education. Funding for universities would decline by 9.5%, or $594 million, forcing many colleges to raise tuition. The shortfall is much larger if you take into consideration growth in student population and increases in costs. The number of students receiving TEXAS Grants, the state’s main financial aid program, would fall from a total of 156,225 in 2010 and 2011 to 78,080 in 2012 and 2013. From 2011 to 2013, the number of students would decline from 86,830 to 27,135, a 69% cut. “The Republican proposal would make college more expensive, placing higher education and a good job out of reach for thousands of young Texans.”

A poll conducted by the state’s large newspapers recently found that 70 percent of Texans oppose cutting any funding for public schools, 61 percent oppose any cuts for health care for kids and low- to moderate-income families, and 80% support either no cuts or only limited cuts in higher education.

“Instead of taking responsibility, Republican leaders are trying to blame Washington, immigrants and anyone else they can think of,” explained Rep. Villarreal. “The truth is Austin Republicans created a financial crisis that now threatens our children’s education.”

Last week Rep. Villarreal sent the Speaker of the House a letter with several suggestions for improving the state’s fiscal standing, including formation of a committee with business leaders and others to make recommendations for aligning state revenue and needs this year and the creation of a permanent citizens commission to review the tax code and identify costly, outdated tax loopholes.

Rep. Lon Burnam:

Last night, Republicans turned their backs on average Texans by releasing a budget that cuts $26 billion in the basic services that they depend on. The proposed budget cuts $9.8 billion in statutorily-required funding levels for public schools and would eliminate 9,610 state employees.

“With this budget, our state’s Republican leadership is asking average Texans to pay for their gross fiscal mismanagement,” said State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth).

If enacted, the budget would cut financial aid for 78,000 low-income college students and eliminate pre-K and early childhood education programs for over 100,000 children — services proven to increase academic performance and keep kids in school. Such cuts are only necessary if state leaders continue to refuse to address the clear problems with our state’s financial system.

Rep. Burnam has filed legislation to eliminate a corporate subsidy for multi-million dollar companies that would generate sufficient funds to prevent these two cuts.

“Republican leaders are more committed to extreme right-wing ideology than meeting the needs of average Texans” Burnam said. “Texans need to know that their elected officials simply refuse to address the root cause of this crisis that will soon wreak havoc on their families,” he added.

In 2006, Republican leaders reduced property taxes but failed to replace the lost revenue, creating a recurring $9 billion shortfall every budget cycle. They used shell games and federal stimulus funds to disguise the structural deficit from taxpayers in 2009, but that debt has now come due. Then Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn told state leaders that the plan would lead to a $23 billion defecit, but her projection was ignored.

Texas’ budget shortfall represents 27% of the state’s share of the budget — an amount significantly larger than California’s infamous 19% shortfall.

In his speech yesterday, Governor Perry said that making Texas families’ lives harder “just to make our jobs easier” would be a “failure of leadership.” By cutting funds for community colleges, public schools, student financial aid, and programs to reduce pollution, this budget does just that.

“Republican budget writers are about to throw average Texans under the bus,” Burnam said. “That’s a heck of a way to kick off the ‘Texas Century.'”

Rep. Armando Walle:

Today State Representative Armando Walle (D-Houston) released the following statement in response to the baseline state budget proposed late last night by Republican lawmakers:

“Republican lawmakers have shown their priorities with the proposed budget — and have indicated that the needs of school children, the elderly and working families are not included in those priorities.

Our students, from pre-K to college, are suffering horrible cuts. The proposed Republican budget completely removes all state funding for pre-K or early childhood education, eliminating programs for over 100,000 children. The primary account for financing Texas public schools suffers a $9.8 billion reduction, which will surely result in teacher layoffs, overcrowded classrooms and school closures for our students. ESL students will also suffer with the complete elimination of the Limited English Proficiency Student Success Initiative.

The TEXAS Grant program and all other higher education grant programs, which have been instrumental in providing deserving students with assistance in pursuing a higher education, are cut dramatically. Economist Ray Perryman predicts that this loss will cost Texas over 1 million permanent jobs over the next two decades.

In addition to harming our children, Texas’s elderly are forced to bear an overwhelming portion of the cuts. Republican budget writers have proposed a $1.57 billion reduction in nursing facility payments. The 10% rate cut to Medicaid providers adds insult to injury and will make it very difficult for many nursing homes to continue operating.

The deep budget cuts were designed to strike fear in the heart of Texans. Gov. Perry has denied that Texas is in a budget crisis and claims that the revenue numbers may change. However, it is abundantly clear that the proposed budget responds to a crisis created by Republicans and creates a crisis for all Texans.”

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