The streets beckon

As the House’s chief budget writer has made painfully clear, there will be a human side to the budget cuts that Republicans were promising during their recent, very successful campaign season. “We will have to throw some people out in the street,” Rep. Jim Pitts of Waxahachie replied when asked, at a recent briefing for a local Tea Party group, what would happen if the state got out of the Medicaid health care program.

Interestingly enough, the Tea Partier who asked the question has a friend on Medicaid (imagine that!) and may not have liked the answer. But, he and many other Texans (including some newly elected legislators) who may have thought the state budget is an overinflated balloon full of pork, gravy and inefficiency are beginning to get a more realistic math lesson.

I am not going to argue that there isn’t waste somewhere in a $182 billion biennial state budget because Gov. Perry alone wastes money every time he leaves the state on an “economic development” junket. But the truth of the budgetsetting process, as Ross Ramsey points out in an article in today’s Texas Tribune, is that the Legislature has unrestricted control over less than half of the total, or about $80.6 billion in the current budget. The remainder includes federal funds designated for specific purposes or funds dedicated by the state constitution for specific programs.

And, most ($73.3 billion) of the $80.6 billion directly controlled by the Legislature is for public and higher education and health and human services. Even if the state doesn’t drop out of the Medicaid program – and I don’t think it will – sick people are going to be booted out of hospitals and otherwise deprived of medical care if state leaders persist in bridging a looming revenue shortfall with spending cuts alone.

Do the math. A shortfall as high as $20 billion or more, which has been the persistent prediction, is onefourth of $80.6 billion.

Does that mean kids also are going to be kicked out of public schools? Maybe, but not to the extent envisioned by Leo Berman, Debbie Riddle and other lawmakers who would boot all the children of undocumented immigrants out of public classrooms. The federal courts already have decided that issue in favor of the immigrant children, at least for now.

If the Legislature stays on its announced path, many educators will lose their jobs, classrooms will become more crowded – making learning more difficult – more textbooks will be outdated and many children will be riding morecrowded buses because routes will be canceled or consolidated.

And, more children will end up on the streets because the dropout problem also will worsen under the anticipated budget cuts. To meet Perry’s directive, the Texas Education Agency already has had to propose cutting millions from dropout prevention programs. More classroom crowding and less individual attention from overextended teachers also will result in more student failures and increase the dropout rate.

Pitts needs to give more math lessons.


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