Monday, April 04, 2011

Bad news: Texas GOP passes their budget

And it's as harsh as everyone has been warning.

The Texas House started with a $164.5 billion budget and ended with the same total. But lawmakers spent the better part of a weekend making changes inside the budget for 2012-13 before giving it their approval on a largely party-line vote of 98 to 49 late Sunday night.

The debate began first thing Friday morning, carried into the first hour of Saturday and then resumed late Sunday afternoon. The essentials remained the same, with an overall plan that's 12.3 percent smaller than the current budget; leaves public education and health and human services spending short of what it would take to maintain current services, especially given population growth and inflation; and requires none of the remaining $6 billion in the state's Rainy Day Fund or any new taxes (though it does include $100 million in new fees).

That's a party line vote, with two exceptions: Republicans David Simpson of Longview and Aaron Pena of Turncoat voted against it (though there is some confusion about a couple of D's and R's who may -- "clerical errors" have been blamed -- switched sides on third reading).

The budget now heads to a Senate that's on track, at this midpoint, to spend more money — about $10 billion, for now — than the House. And the reconciliation of those two disparate notions of state government will frame what's left of the legislative session. If they can't find middle ground, it could go into overtime in special sessions after the regular session ends on Memorial Day.

That's a concise summary of the situation. The Texas House is much like the national one: full of conservative extremists who want to shrink government until it can fit inside a woman's uterus, as state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has noted. The Texas Senate in fact seems to be a bit more realistic about the money needed to run a halfway-decent state government. But only a bit.

For the Democrats, it was a way of disowning a Republican budget. For the Republicans, it was the difference between winning by a 2-to-1 margin and winning by near acclamation. That says something about how the state representatives see the political risks here: If they were worried about future general election contests against Democrats, Republicans would be breaking away from the pack as local politics required. Instead, they ignored the Democrats and stuck to voting in favor of cuts and against more spending.

Two votes broke the pattern. One would move $3.5 million from the Texas Commission on the Arts to the Department of Aging and Disability Services; it passed by just six votes, 67-61, with Pitts and former House Speaker Tom Craddick among those on the losing side. ...

Another would have moved $1.5 million from the governor's film and music marketing budget into state aid for libraries. It failed 79-55, with Pitts again on the losing side. Both of those votes broke the Republican-Democrat pattern that prevailed on most of the votes on budget amendments.

No extra money to speak of; just moving funds from one strapped state agency to another. The lesser of the greatest evil.

Conservatives successfully raided family planning funds in the budget, stripping money from those programs and sending it to others, including one for autism, another for mental health services for kids and yet another for trauma care. "We don't choose between good and bad," said Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center. "We choose between necessary and necessary." Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, was on the other side of that argument and started the nonvoting with this line: "I will not be caught trying to decide whether to fund child one or child two."

The debate on education issues lasted six hours. Members took money from the public school system for Texas prisons and put it into community colleges.

They turned back an attack on the Texas Education Agency that would have whacked its funding and cut the commissioner's salary to $50,000 from $186,000. "I don't know any of us that go home and say 'hip, hip hooray for the TEA,'" said Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, the author of that amendment. But after opposition from a fellow Republican, House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler of The Woodlands, the House voted to leave the agency alone. Another from Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston also fell short, after he expressed his vision for the agency as "one guy and one phone."

Oh, and some classy moves to placate the religious fundamentalists by the afore-mentioned Representative 'Christian'.

Before the House stopped early Saturday morning, members turned to a series of votes on controversial social and cultural issues. One debate started a buzz inside and outside the Capitol, when Christian proposed requiring "family and traditional values centers" at colleges and universities where any state money supports gender and sexuality centers or any "other center for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or any other gender identity issues." That was adopted, overwhelmingly, by a 110-24 margin.

The next debate was ugly, when Christian proposed requiring that colleges and universities getting state funds should make sure that at least 10 percent of their courses "provide instruction in Western Civilization." The line formed quickly at the back microphone, where members can question people who are at the chamber's front mike presenting legislation. Christian got flustered in his descriptions of what would and wouldn't qualify as Western studies. Asked by Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, whether that would include African-American or Asian-American studies, Christian suggested the first might belong in African studies. Miles, who is black, implored him, "Let's take this down, brother." But it went to a vote, with Christian and 26 fellow Republicans voting for it and 108 other House members voting it down.

This is what Texans voted for last November. Allegedly. But back to the financials.

"(This budget) lives within the available revenue that we have to work with," Pitts said, adding, "This budget is the result of the worst recession that anyone in this room has ever experienced."

That's horseshit, Jim. It lives within the structural deficit you Republicans created six five years ago when you slashed property taxes and replaced them with a business franchise tax that fell far short of your own projections -- as well as the projections that predicted the current $27 billion dollar shortfall.

You Republicans can't seem to govern worth a damn.

If budgets truly are moral documents, then the Texas GOP is surely going to hell for this one.

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