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Prison health care

Just another dimension to the complex budget picture.

An early casualty of impending state budget cuts could be the health care contract that serves most of Texas’ 154,000 prison convicts.

Top officials at the University of Texas System, whose Galveston medical branch provides the health services, are threatening to cancel the contract because legislative budget-writers will not fully cover a projected $82 million shortfall.

[…]

Squeezing out enough additional money to make a significant difference in an $18 billion budget gap will mean that very little will be completely spared the knife, said Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association , a business-backed research group.

That includes public education, which makes up nearly half of the state’s $81 billion general fund, even though many lawmakers consistently declare education is top priority.

“The magnitude of the budget problem is so great that it is difficult to get from here to there when you take half the budget off the table,” Craymer said.

But cutting school funding and prison funding comes with legal land mines because any changes will need to abide by past court orders, Craymer said.

If your initial reaction to this story is one of indifference – “Who cares if these guys get health care or not? They’re in prison!” – I can understand where you’re coming from. I could remind you that there’s a higher authority that speaks to that question, but I’ll simply note that this is one of those places in which the state’s hands will be tied by federal law and litigation. Dropping this simply isn’t an option, and I suspect there aren’t any cheaper solutions. Which means that other budget items will be targeted instead. It doesn’t take long from there to get into stuff you really don’t want to cut, like public education. To paraphrase Dale Craymer, the magnitude of the budget problem is so great that it is difficult to get from here to there when you take half your options for how to deal with it off the table. Grits has more.

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