Voters say they don’t want spending cuts

According to one poll, anyway.

Voters gave Republicans an overwhelming victory in November, leaving the GOP with nearly two-thirds of the seats in the Legislature and every statewide office. Many have interpreted the election as a clear call for spending cuts, and in fact, a Texas newspapers poll conducted in the weeks before the election showed that voters prefer spending cuts to higher taxes.

But the new poll shows voters want more than half of the state budget protected.

Some 70 percent of respondents said lawmakers should not cut school spending, and 61 percent said they want no spending cuts on health care programs for children and low- to moderate-income families.

“Everybody would like to make cuts, but it’s hard to actually make them where the most spending is,” pollster Mickey Blum said.

She said Democrats, Republicans and independents all prefer not to cut education and health care. Also, a majority of poll respondents who voted in the November election oppose cuts to those programs.


Voters are more willing to cut spending on colleges and universities, however. Pollsters found that 41 percent of respondents said lawmakers should cut higher education spending a little, while 12 percent said they should cut it a lot. Still, nearly four in 10 voters said they did not want any spending cuts in higher education.

The poll also shows majority support for expanded gambling, a preference for raising cigarette taxes as opposed to other forms of increasing revenue, significant opposition to raising the class size limits and (somewhat oddly, in my opinion) to allowing concealed handguns on college campuses. A few thoughts:

– I don’t see crosstabs – this was a telephone poll of 819 Texans, including 716 registered voters, conducted from December 28 to January 5 by Blum & Weprin Associates – so as always, take with a requisite amount of salt.

– There is always more support for cutting budgets in general than there is for cutting specific programs. This is why many Republicans avoid being specific about making cuts, no matter how ridiculous it makes them appear. Similarly, there is always more support for ways of raising revenue that don’t affect most people, like cigarette taxes, than for broad-based measures like sales and property taxes.

– Having said all that, this is why I stressed in the immediate aftermath of the election that it is vital for Democratic legislators to avoid supporting Republican budget-cutting efforts, at least without getting substantial concessions. We have to be able to make them own it 100%. They got us into this mess, after all.

– I still believe that expanded gambling is doomed. But I’m sure the gambling industry will use polls like this to put pressure on the Lege, especially as some of them begin to grasp the sheer magnitude of the problem. They could prove me wrong.

– Needless to say, Rick Perry didn’t get the memo.

Interestingly, there’s some evidence that at least a few Republicans are looking at this mess with something other than glee.

The underlying fear, from some in both parties, is that the budget-cutting zealousness could go too far.

“You’ll be gutting, literally gutting, some core services that government does for everybody,” warned 16-year Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, a key member of the House leadership. “You’ve got to be careful about crippling every program to the point of no recovery.”


Solomons, a lieutenant of House Speaker Joe Straus, said ordinary Texans will notice if the deficit is as huge as expected – and only cuts are used to zap it.

“You just won’t build any more roads. And you might not be able to maintain roads for a while. … Instead of taking three days to get your license, it might take 30,” he said.

Solomons said he’ll support many spending trims but left open the possibility that he might reluctantly back tax or fee increases. The state has too many needs, especially in education, he said. Business people tell him they want an educated workforce.

“So are you going to fund community colleges?” he said. “Or are we going to cripple everything?”

It’ll be interesting to see if Solomons gets criticized for his heretical stance. The Chron quotes a couple of former legislators, who no longer have to worry about such things.

The second-biggest Republican freshman class was the 27 who faced a major budget shortfall of $10 billion in 2003. Several members of that class said the new lawmakers will bring fresh ideas but warned that they should watch out for unintended consequences as they try to cut the budget.

“A lot of us thought we can clean this by doing better about spending and we can cut out waste, but we didn’t know at the time the significance of the cuts and the fallout,” said former Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels.

Casteel noted the Legislature her freshman year deregulated college tuition to balance the budget without actually cutting higher education spending. She said the unintended consequence was that a higher education became harder to obtain for the children of Texas and was a new financial burden on the state’s middle class.

Casteel and another 2003 freshman, former Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Houston, said the Legislature that year also shifted a financial burden to counties by cutting the caseloads handled by the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Instead of having a doctor through health insurance, low-income children were treated in expensive emergency rooms at the cost to county taxpayers.

“There are consequences on the back end,” Van Arsdale said.

Good to know there’s some maturity out there. Of course, both Casteel and Van Arsdale later got ousted in Republican primaries, Casteel for opposing schools vouchers and Van Arsdale for not showing sufficient fealty to Dan Patrick. Maturity isn’t always valued.

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