Texas House passes budget bill with deep cuts

Texas House passes budget bill with deep cuts

By Imani Evans

 

 

 

In a vote that sharply reflects the deep ideological fissure within the state, the Committee Substitute for House Bill 1 , the general appropriations bill that sets the budget for the state, passed the Texas House of Representatives Sunday by a vote of 98-49. The bill cuts tens of billions from public and higher education, health and human services, and public safety programs, while keeping the state Rainy Day Fund mostly intact – a key goal of fiscal conservatives. For the 82nd Legislature, the momentum toward steep spending cuts was established early, even though Democrats have always insisted that the story of the deficit is also the story of certain well-heeled players – some of them major corporations – refusing to pay their fair share in taxes.{{more}}“We can’t afford to subsidize companies that are making millions and billions of dollars while we have folks that are getting laid-off in our schools,” said State Representative Yvonne Davis. “It’s the will of the leadership to recognize that we need additional resources.”“I don’t understand how long we’re going to continue this charade,” said Rep. Rene Oliveira at one point during the lengthy floor debate. “Our fellow Texans, the poor, the middle-class, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, our schoolchildren, they all need us to stand up today.”This ideological attachment to limited government that the GOP has worked tirelessly to enshrine in the Legislature has helped Texas earn the distinction of ranking close to the bottom among the 50 states in per capita spending on public education. “A lot of people have misunderstood the message that the voters are sending when they say ‘less government, more efficiency,’” said Rep. Helen Giddings. “They do mean that. But then you have to go further and ask them the specific question, ‘Do you want to see cuts in education?’ And the answer to that, overwhelmingly, is ‘no’. ‘Do you want to see cuts in assistance to nursing homes?’ The answer is ‘absolutely no’. So we have to be sure we understand the message the voters are sending us.” It has been no small challenge for Democrats to broaden the budget discussion to include corporate tax exemptions passed by previous legislatures. But many, such as Rep. Mike Villarreal feel that it is time for those who backed such legislation to come forward and publicly defend their choices in light of the current crisis. “We need more transparency, we need a systematic review of all tax expenditures,” Villarreal said. “Similar to the way we scrub our budget, we need to be evaluating tax loopholes that leak billions of dollars from our state coffers and treat one taxpayer differently than another.”The Texas Legislative Study Group, in a report submitted last Sunday during the third day of floor debate, offers this grim assessment: “In the wake of a recession, this budget will deliver an economic blow that costs Texas over 335,000 jobs over the course of the next two years, 44 percent of which are private sector jobs.““Voters don’t want waste, and neither do I,” Rep. Giddings said. “But I also want to make sure that we take care of our elderly, and we make sure that there are opportunities there for young people that want to go to college, and who don’t have to take out loans in such amounts that they will be indebted for many years to come.” “The thing I always call people’s attention to is that there are a lot of people in this House who are still campaigning, rather than governing,” said Rep. Harold Dutton . “When the campaigns end and the election’s over and the winners have been decided, it’s my observation that people ought to come together and do what’s best for Texas. What’s happening here is that people are trying to do what’s best for party. ”Implicit within these remarks may be the harshest charge of all: that within Republican circles there is a strain of thought that practically hopes for fiscal crises to occur, to ease the path for budget cuts that serve to shrink the size of government according to conservative designs. Texas Republicans, of course, deny that they have any designs other than obeying the Texas Constitution and adhering to the popular sentiment that less government is better.“This budget reflects the economic realities facing our state, and it only spends available revenue,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jim Pitts in a statement. “This bill, combined with the votes we took yesterday on HB 4 and HB 275, fulfills our constitutional responsibility to have a balanced budget.”