The only problem with this AP story is the headline, “Texas budget cuts may shift burden to locals”. There’s no “may” about it – the Pitts budget would absolutely shift a huge burden to local governments.
Cuts set off a domino effect: Historically, public schools raise property taxes when the state education agency sends smaller checks. Cities and counties have to pick up the bill when the sick go to the emergency room because fewer doctors accept Medicaid. And when the mentally ill don’t receive treatment, local law enforcement often steps in.
Texans pay for these services in one of two ways. Local authorities collect property taxes, and 64 percent of the state budget comes from sales taxes. Less spending during the recession has meant reduced state revenues. The state also collects a business tax, but that has never produced as much revenue as lawmakers predicted, [Sherri Greenberg, interim director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School for Public Affairs in Austin] said.
The draft budget assumes no new taxes and over the next two years takes $9.8 billion away from schools and could cost 100,000 school district jobs, according to Moak, Casey & Associates, a school finance consulting firm that analyzed the budget. This at a time when Texas schools is projected to add 160,000 new students, according to census figures. The Houston Independent School District alone could lose $348 million in financing, something that could result in teacher layoffs.
As the story notes, HISD is one of several school districts that has the option to rate property taxes by as much as three cents without putting it to a vote. Does anyone doubt that this is what they’ll do if faced with this big a loss of revenue? When that happens, remember that it was Rick Perry and his policies that made it happen.
Parkland Health and Hospital System is one of the largest public hospitals in Texas, treating more than 93,000 low-income patients who depend on the program each year. Ron Anderson, the CEO, said state cuts in health care merely shift the costs to counties and hospital districts, which rely on local property taxes. Parkland relies on medical school faculty and students to provide services, so cuts to the higher education budget will compound the cuts to the health budget, costing millions in local taxes.
“Sometimes you think you’re saving money with one budget, but your actually transferring the costs to somebody else and the costs might actually be higher,” Anderson said. “The taxpayers who pay these bills are actually the same taxpayers.”
Texas ranks 49th in the nation in per capita spending on mental health programs, and the draft budget would cut spending by 40 percent. When mentally ill people can’t get the help they need, they often end up in jail or worse, said Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.
“Officers and the mentally ill will be having confrontations that will result in arrests, tazings and, regretfully, even shootings,” Garcia said. “That should not be the way that families or individuals resolve their mental health issues, but that’s generally how it works because there is a lack of service.”
The state has responsibilities. The cuts that are being proposed represent a complete abdication of those responsibilities. We can pay now or we can pay later, but one way or another we’re going to pay.