April 7, 2011
Led by union workers from across Texas, thousands of chanting marchers converged on the Capitol on Wednesday to protest the recently passed House budget’s deep spending cuts to education, health care and state jobs.
“We are all in this together,” Judy Lugo, president of the Texas State Employees Union, told the raucous, cheering crowd on the south steps of the Capitol. “Every Texan, now and for years to come, will suffer the consequences if the Texas Legislature does not change course.”
Shortly before the rally, conservative and tea party activists held a news conference on the other side of the Capitol, urging the Senate to follow the House’s lead and pass a lean budget that slashes spending.
And in the morning, Catholic bishops from across the state — supported by Catholic students and parishioners — circulated around the Capitol to urge lawmakers to protect human life and spend all of the $9.4 billion rainy day fund to better help Texans with the greatest needs.
At the Save Our State Rally, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said that in reducing spending by $23 billion over the next two years, the House budget does not align with the priorities of Texans.
“We are all here today because of the evolving catastrophe taking place in that building behind me,” Watson said. “We are here because we are justifiably frustrated that those who worked to cause this disaster are doing so little to fix it.”
Watson asked the crowd to hold legislative leaders accountable for the spending cuts.
“We must not pack our kids into overcrowded classrooms or dismantle our parents’ and grandparents’ nursing homes” or allow legislators to “paper over their mismanagement with pink slips for teachers and public servants,” he said.
After gathering at Waterloo Park, the line of marchers stretched for five blocks on the route to the Capitol. Popular chants included “They say cut back, we say fight back” and “It’s raining, it’s pouring, Rick Perry is snoring.”
The Texas State Employees Union, a lead organizer of the “Save Our State Rally,” estimated that 6,000 to 7,000 people attended.
At the Capitol, Lugo pushed for spending more of the rainy day fund and asked legislators to find additional revenue to repair a budget shortfall caused by “decades of bad public policy” and a recession brought on by financiers, speculators and corporate leaders.
Workers, she said, “did not cause this problem, and we are not going to pick up the tab for it.”
A far different message was delivered by tea party and conservative groups that urged fiscal restraint.
“The Senate should be looking for more money, but more money in the form of cuts,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, told reporters and dozens of supporters.
Senators have been looking for $5 billion in nontax revenue to help pay for as much as $10 billion in additional education and health care spending that has been added to the Senate’s version of the budget. The first phase of their findings will be laid out at a hearing today .
“We do not need a new revenue road. We need to shut down the spending highway,” said Toby Marie Walker of the Waco Tea Party.
The groups also called for lawmakers to leave untouched the remainder of the state’s rainy day fund. That money will be needed two years from now for the additional Medicaid costs that stem from federal health care reform, said Talmadge Heflin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a limited-government think tank.