It is down to the wire for the Texas Legislature to pass the budget for the next biennium, which ends this coming Monday, May 30. Texas lawmakers agreed to an $80.6 billion two-year spending plan on Saturday, May 21 when a 10-member conference committee, along with Lt. Governor Dewhurst and House Speaker Straus, compromised on the House and Senate budget plans. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst stated that final approval is hinged on the passage of several bills – mainly financing public schools and universities. Four days later, and with only four days left in the regular session, the House and Senate have yet to agree on education funding.
An article in The Statesman dated May 25 states that the two chambers have until Thursday to reach an agreement on how to appropriate the $4 billion reduction in state school aid. House leaders want a temporary fix that takes six percent off the top of each school district for the next two years, but by 2013, school funding would return to its present levels. On the other hand, Senate leaders say this approach would add to the pile of budget problems in 2013. Some of the troubles already in queue for 2013 are the $4.8 billion in projected Medicaid costs not covered in this budget.
It’s been harped on that the Senate, House, and Governor Perry do not want to spend the Rainy Day Fund or raise taxes to solve the budget shortfall, but a recent poll by the University of Texas / Texas Tribune shows how voters feel about the state’s budget crisis. When it comes to the $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund, 43 percent of voters agree the state should spend some or all of the money to balance the next budget, and 39 percent say it should be left untouched. Texas voters want cuts, but they oppose major cuts to education and health and human service: 85 percent oppose cuts to public education, 86 percent don’t want cuts to Medicaid, and 90 percent say no to cutting the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Unfortunately for voters, these areas are subject to the largest funding reductions.
Also according to the poll, when asked if they preferred to balance the next budget with spending cuts, by raising revenues, or something in between, only four percent of voters would choose to balance the books with new revenue and 18 percent said it should be balanced with budget cuts. Voters and legislators agree that budget cuts are necessary, but voters retreat when specific programs like education and Medicaid are brought to the chopping block. The Texas Legislature has tough decisions to make, but it is important that they consider the effects of their final decisions on future budgets. After all these cuts and no new sources of revenue added to the mix, when the 2013 budget discussions begin there will be no more money to strike without severely underfunding critical programs that matter most to voters.
To read more about the Texas Legislature’s $80.6 billion two-year agreement and education and Medicaid funding concerns, please visit Bloomberg.