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You can cut services, but you can’t reduce the demand for them

Another look at what we’ll be facing next year.

With state leaders saying the November election sent a no-new-taxes, lean-government message, no program is expected to escape the knife – including education and health and human services, which take up the bulk of state dollars.

For some programs, the budget crunch will mean spending cuts. Others will not get increases that state agencies say are needed to keep services at the current level given population growth and rising costs in some areas.

College financial aid could be cut; class-size limits could be eased in public schools; universities are reducing faculty; reimbursement rates for those who provide care for Medicaid patients have been slashed; a medley of grant programs could be put on hiatus; state payroll could be cut; and some leaders have raised the specter of employee furloughs and shutting some state agencies.

“There’s no way I can tell people that families aren’t going to get hurt,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

GOP Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Texans have tightened their belts and expect government to do the same.

“The people of Texas want us to live within our means and figure out a way to maintain all of our essential services, and that’s what I’m committed to doing,” he said.

You could start by being clear about just what you think “essential services” are, and how much money they require to do an adequate job. You could admit that much of what the state will do will be to deny help to those who need it, and push as much of the rest of the costs as possible onto local government. You could, in short, be honest about what it is that you’re actually committed to doing.

One more thing:

“This is a budget that, ultimately, will impact all Texans, whether it’s providing less health care services than what we did two years ago. It’s also going to likely be higher parks fees. It’s going to be bigger classrooms. It’s going to be roads that aren’t as good as what some might want them to be,” said Dale Craymer, president of the business-based Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. “Balancing this budget is going to require some sacrifice on the part of all Texans.”

I strongly dispute that last assertion, at least as far as what will happen is concerned. What will happen is that some Texans will be hit very hard, many more will be hit somewhat less hard, and a lucky few will not notice anything different. If you doubt this, ask yourself what sacrifice Dan Patrick will have to make over the next two years. He’s got a nice, generous health care plan provided by the state, and thanks to those ginormous, unaffordable yet completely untouchable property tax cuts from 2006, he’s done quite nicely for himself lately, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I guarantee you, whatever else may happen in Austin in the next six to eight months, the Dan Patricks of the world will not be asked to make any meaningful sacrifice. They never are, not here and not elsewhere.

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