Thursday, September 08, 2011

Drought, wildfires, and the Texas legislature's budget cuts

So this must be what "being broke" looks like. So goes Texas with Rick Perry at the helm, so goes the United States.

The 82nd Legislature slashed budgets for the state's volunteer firefighters, and now those volunteers are battling the wildfires devastating Texas without the things they need to do the job.

Across the Central Texas region wildfires are placing a severe strain on firefighting resources, and much of that strain is borne by a large number of firefighters who already work for free.

"77 percent of the fire-service in Texas is made up of volunteers, and Texas is a huge state," said Chris Barron with the State Fire Marshall Association.

Barron said all of state’s volunteer firefighters purchase their equipment with money from the same budget. State lawmakers cut that budget from $25 million to $7 million during the recent legislative session.

This has left many volunteers with old or outdated equipment. Chris Barron has made it his mission to raise money for new gear, like the gear that kept volunteer Jerrid Coffin out of the hospital.

“It helps a lot. I was out there yesterday for a couple hours and I fell in a hole about four inches deep and I wasn't even burned,” he said. “If I were in my Wranglers like I normally wear, I would be burned from the waist down."

“I can only hope that the fund is restored at the next legislative session,” Barron said. “We can only hope that once they get back in session, they can see we have had extreme circumstances with droughts and they will help the fire service out. There is no guarantee that it will happen. There is no guarantee that anyone will get any reimbursement, but we are hoping that they will help us out.”

Basic gear for a volunteer firefighter costs about $200.

If you would like to learn how you could help out, visit

Volunteer firefighters are coming out of retirement to battle the blazes burning Texas. Spending their own money so they aren't burned up while they do so.

Because the good Republican leaders of Texas refuse to consider doing anything but cutting government resources and services.

Of course it's not just Texas volunteer firefighters who are suffering from this incompetent ultraconservative management, it's also the victims of the wildfires -- the people who have lost their homes and their timber and their livestock and their livelihoods and some even their lives. We already knew the price being paid by Texas teachers and their students, as well as Texas' seniors, the poor and the hungry. It is eventually going to be all of us who pay for their pound-foolishness.

State lawmakers - led by Perry's stand against raising taxes or dipping too deeply into the state's rainy day fund - cut appropriations for the Texas Forest Service even as they had to dig for more money to meet existing expenses.

Even the supplemental spending bill they passed this year will not be enough to cover the expense of fighting fires through Aug. 31, the end of the 2010-11 fiscal period. The state agency anticipates it will need another $61 million to cover those costs.

Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said the Legislature had provided agencies the flexibility to meet emergencies with their regular budgets, and Perry is seeking federal assistance.

Ah, that damned federal government again.The same one he cursed in May, when the fires first began.

I just wish Obama had the nads to tell Rick Perry: "No more handouts!"

Let's hope that Bob Perry and James Leininger and all of those other people who have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Rick Perry's campaigns through the years -- and who are being shaken down right now for contributions to his presidential run --  will click on this link and send an equally generous donation to the state's volunteer firefighters, so they don't asphyxiate or burn to death while they try to save the rest of us.

Because the rest of us are tapped out, and the fires are just going to keep on burning.

Update: More like this at Texas Kaos.

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