February 12, 2013
A must-pass $4.8 billion budget bill is headed to the floor of the Texas House next week without the money that Bastrop County has requested from the state for wildfire recovery.
The House Appropriations Committee on Monday unanimously approved House Bill 10, an emergency appropriations bill whose primary purpose is to cover the $4.5 billion unpaid Medicaid tab. In 2011, lawmakers paid for only 18 months of Medicaid expenses as they tried to balance the budget without raising taxes or using the rainy day fund.
Medicaid will have to stop paying doctors, hospitals and nursing homes if the bill is not signed into law by mid-March, said House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.
Central Texas lawmakers have been working to get several million dollars of state money in the emergency bill to help Bastrop County pay for cleanup and recovery after the 2011 wildfires. A looming April deadline means the clock is ticking for the county to find the money to pull down $3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prevent future wildfires.
The county is tapped out after putting $5.6 million toward the recovery and is asking the state to chip in $7.25 million, which combined accesses about $27 million in federal support.
“Bastrop County has been heroic in managing its recovery. Now, the county needs a hand from the state to access federal money that can finish this job,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “The state can and should support Bastrop County — just as we’ve supported other communities across the state — as it rebuilds from this historic disaster. Between federal guidelines and seasonal and environmental factors, Texas simply can’t afford to wait.”
Watson is also seeking about $5 million to help Bastrop State Park.
Pitts said he couldn’t risk cluttering up the emergency bill with other items because it has to pass quickly. But he was confident money could be found elsewhere for Bastrop in time to meet the deadline.
“We’re going to get Bastrop taken care of,” Pitts said.
A second supplemental appropriations bill will come later in the legislative session and include about $160 million to pay for the state’s costs to fight the wildfires that raged across Texas in 2011.
In 2011, lawmakers readily acknowledged that they would have to use the rainy day fund to pay for the Medicaid IOU. Since that time, the state has seen a deluge of unanticipated tax revenue, and now it can leave the rainy day fund untouched to cover the $4.5 billion needed for Medicaid.
Democrats plan to offer an amendment on the floor next week to use the additional general revenue to undo the $5.4 billion in education cuts made in 2011. That will probably get little traction in the Republican-controlled House.