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Texas Forward

A matter of perspective

The Trib’s Thursday morning brief begins as follows:

Competing rallies on Wednesday provided a stark backdrop to the House vs. Senate tug-of-war playing out in the Capitol.

While one group of protesters called on the Legislature to roll back its proposed sweeping budget cuts, others demanded that lawmakers cut even further. The warring protests, which together attracted thousands, mirrored the debate playing out between the House, which on Sunday approved an austere budget bill that cuts billions of dollars from nearly all areas of state government, and the Senate, which has refused to cut as deeply as the House.

If you click on that second link, you see the following:

The first gathering on the north steps of the Pink Dome featured speakers representing conservative causes. They praised the lean version of HB 1, the general appropriations budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, that is on its way to the Senate.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s a bill that stays within our revenue,” said Talmadge Heflin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Fiscal Policy, the main organizer of the rally. “What (the Senate now) needs to do is focus on cuts rather than look for more revenue.”

He was joined by representatives from Americans for Prosperity-Texas, Americans for Tax Reform, Empower Texans, the Heartland Institute, the Liberty Institute, the National Federation for Independendent Business-Texas, and Tea Party leaders from Waco and San Antonio. Each speaker warned the Senate to not tap the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

The crowd included about 50 supporters who held up signs with slogans like “Teach fiscal responsibility; support the budget cuts!”

“They don’t need more revenue. They need to get government back in a Constitution-sized box,” JoAnn Fleming, chair of the Tyler-based Tea Party Caucus Advisory Committee, told the crowd to loud applause. “You cut off the fluff and get down to business.”

The “Texans for a Conservative Budget” rally had barely finished when thousands of public employees descended past them toward the south steps, chanting “No cuts!”

Organized by Texas Forward, the “Save our State” rally attracted citizens from around the state representing the Texas State Employees Union, Communication Workers of America, Texas Organizing Project and religious groups. Their concerns ranged from overtaxing the poor to the current version of the state budget, which proposes closing nursing homes and cutting education spending by $8 billion.

So fifty people attended the conservative “rally”, while thousands – Postcards cited rally organizers claiming 6,000 to 7,000 attendees – came to the rally against deep budget cuts. One was primarily populated by lobbyists, the other by real people. And they’re both lumped together under that unassuming “together attracted thousands” label. This is like saying that Hank Aaron and I together combined to hit over 750 home runs – absolutely true, and completely misinformative. Surely there was a better way to summarize this, even if it required a few more words. You can see photos from the real rally, the one that had actual people attending it, here, and some video of Sen. Kirk Watson addressing the crowd here. EoW has more.

The state of the state

Is strong, according to Rick Perry. So strong, in fact, that we’re going to kick the legs out of social services, because clearly we don’t need them.

When the state faced a budget crisis in 2003, Gov. Rick Perry’s office released a budget proposal that was full of zeros, stating that each agency would have to justify every dollar they spent. In 2011, the Governor has taken a different approach, releasing a budget with numbers.

Perry’s budget proposal slashes spending on the Health and Human Services Commission (providing about half of what the agency requested), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (providing only two-thirds of what the agency requested) and the Public Utilities Commission (only giving the PUC about 10% of what the agency requested).

Health and Human Services provides the state funding for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program. TCEQ regulates polluters, such as coal power plants and oil refineries. The TCEQ has been engaged in a long running battle with the EPA, which has long held that the TCEQ is far too lax when it comes to enforcing environmental law. The Public Utilities Commission regulates the state’s utilities and power grid. The state’s grid suffered from rolling blackouts during one of the coldest weeks in recent memory in Texas.

What’s a few blackouts among rugged individuals? Naturally, Perry doesn’t share in the sacrifice he’s calling on others to make, as his budget (a copy of which you can see here) calls for more money for his slush funds the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund. He also extracts some revenge on the Historical Commission for not giving his wife what she wanted in the reconstruction of the Governor’s Mansion. Classy.

You can read the full text of Perry’s remarks here if you really want to. My reaction is that the Lege is already working on budget proposals, and they’ve already heard a lot of testimony from people who would be directly harmed by them, about which the Governor might know something if he weren’t off traipsing around the country. He still wouldn’t care, of course, but at least he might know. Other reactions of which I’m aware:

Texas Liberal

Texas Watch

BOR, which has a few more reactions from others here

State Sen. Kirk Watson

Texas Forward

Various other legislative Democrats

The Texas State Teachers’ Association

State Rep. Armando Walle

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

Paul Burka and Patricia Kilday Hart, who notes that Perry essentially refuted the idea of tuition deregulation in this speech

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez

State Rep. Lon Burnam

In the Pink

EoW

State Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna

State Rep. Carol Alvarado

Abby Rapoport

Nick Anderson

Please use the Rainy Day Fund

I don’t have any faith that those who need to hear this are listening, but as the 82nd Lege gets gaveled in today, it still needs to be said.

A coalition of progressive organizations from throughout Texas called for “a balanced approach to a balanced budget” at a Capitol press conference Wednesday. The groups’ challenge comes less than a week from the beginning of the legislative session Tuesday.

Members of Texas Forward urged lawmakers to resist steep cuts to education and social services as the Legislature attempts to close a budget shortfall projected as high as $24 billion.

“The cuts coming down the pike are not about cutting the fat; there is no more fat,” said Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “What we’re looking at is actually cutting into muscle, and this is the muscle that is key to the infrastructure of Texas.”

Organizers called for the Legislature to close the budget gap using all the money from the state’s “rainy day fund,” a sum estimated at $9.6 billion, as well as finding additional revenue sources, maximizing available federal funding and making “carefully considered cuts” to existing services.

Some of the folks in this effort wrote an op-ed in the Statesman outlining their preferred approach in late December. Again, I agree with them entirely, but that ain’t the Lege we’ve got. I hope I’m being needlessly pessimistic, and I’ll be glad to be proven wrong, but I don’t expect that.