January 20, 2011
State lawmakers got their first glimpse of the budget late Wednesday and saw the deep cuts that were expected.
Texas’s next budget, as it’s written now, will carve about $13.7 billion in funding from schools, health care and almost every state agency as the lawmakers seek ways to close a budget shortfall estimated between $15 billion and $27 billion.
The first draft of the next two-year state budget cuts $771.6 million from Texas colleges and universities, including nearly $100 million earmarked for the state’s flagship universities, the University of Texas and Texas A&M University.
Four Texas community colleges — Brazosport College in Lake Jackson, Frank Philips College in Borger, Odessa College and Ranger College — would be closed under a plan to slash $145 million in state funding for Texas community and junior colleges.
Texas public schools’ budgets would be cut by $5 billion, including reductions in teacher incentive pay, arts education and money for schools to administer steroid testing. The state’s Foundation School Program — the pool of money distributed to schools using formulas based on daily attendance — would be reduced more than $4 billion.
Also proposed are ways to save $2.3 billion in state general revenue funds via the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid and other health and human services. The first draft recommends slashing $2 billion from Medicaid, CHIP and food stamps and includes a $241 million dollar cut in state health services.
Also on Wednesday, the Texas Senate took another move toward legislative transparency when it approved a 48-hour waiting period between the time the final version of the state budget is completed and when it’s voted upon.
The House has a 24-hour delay, but until now there was none in the Senate to allow the public and lawmakers to read and understand what is arguably the most complex piece of legislation considered each session. This year, the budget is even more crucial, given that billions of dollars must be cut.
“[This] vote gives hard-working Texans an important and essential tool to see whether the budget finally addresses the challenges they face,” Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin said. “It allows them to make sure the legislature followed through on moral commitments that are critical to maintaining Texas’ economic edge.”
Watson had proposed a five-day waiting period and eventually voted against the approved rule change because he opposed included legislation requiring voters to show ID at polling places before casting a ballot. Watson called the vote a “very good compromise” and “real progress toward budget honesty.”
Senators also decided to continue a rule that requires two-thirds of its 31 members to agree to debate a bill before it can be brought up for a vote, and left intact a special provision from the 2009 session in which voter ID legislation can be debated via a simple majority vote.