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Budget debate resumes tomorrow

Postcards:

The Texas House [has called] it a night.

They finished up the section of the budget bill that deals with public and higher education around 12:40 a.m. then adjourned until Sunday.

Some members were planning to attend a Saturday morning funeral in Houston for the late husband of Democratic state Rep. Alma Allen.

There is plenty more work to do when the members return to work at 4 p.m. Sunday. They will start with the judiciary but have finished with the behemoths of education and health and human services.

A lot of the time was spent moving funds from one place to another, since adding revenues was off the table. Many Democrats refused to vote on a number of these amendments.

Symbolic protest votes by many Democrats on Friday could not derail the Republicans in the Texas House as they chugged through hundreds of amendments to the 2012-13 budget.

Outnumbered and overpowered, almost all of the Democratic House members repeatedly registered as “present, not voting” on the Republican amendments to House Bill 1 that sought to move money — mostly from family planning — to other priorities.

“I will not be put in the position of pulling from one need to (give to) another,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat and the vice chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

[…]

Family planning programs sustained a devastating blow by the Republican money-shifting, losing $61 million out of their $99 million in funding. The amendments redirected the money to other programs, including mental health services for children and programs for autistic children.

Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said the discussion was inherently political because some of the clinics that would lose funding might recommend abortions, though the abortions are not state-funded.

But for all the politics, the money would end up going “to something that was worthy,” Zerwas said.

Democrats protested the shifts in funding.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, said family planning services that would be lost were used by almost 200,000 women last year.

She noted that the services wouldn’t include abortion, but rather procedures such as cancer screenings, mammograms and Pap smears.

This is the fundamental difference between the House and Senate approaches. The Senate has decided it doesn’t want to have to make these kinds of choices if it doesn’t have to, which is why it’s looking for more funds. The House is perfectly happy to live with self-imposed, arbitrary limits on funding, and thus spent the evening robbing Peter to pay Paul. Turner described it as Solomon’s choice, wondering “What would Solomon say to the two mothers?” Something about “living within our means” and “we were elected to make tough choices like this” would be my guess. There’s material here for a thousand campaign ads.

There’s also a different approach that won’t be considered.

Democratic state Reps. Yvonne Davis of Dallas and Borris Miles of Houston have filed a bill that would collect an additional $23 billion a year of revenue for Texas by repealing assorted exemptions from sales, franchise and property taxes.

The bill would help the state fix its fiscal crisis by letting Texas “stop the bleeding and collect the money!” Davis said Friday.

She and Miles said deep cuts in the House budget to public schools and nursing homes are unacceptable, and blamed state GOP leaders for poor fiscal management in recent years.

It’d be nice to at least have a debate about a bill like this, but we won’t get one. On the plus side, an amendment by Rep. Mike Villarreal that “directs the Comptroller to determine whether current tax loopholes accomplish their intended purpose; whether they are inefficient, ineffective, or unnecessary; and what the impact is on jobs and economic development” did get passed, so that’s something. Statements from Reps. Garnet Coleman, Mike Villarreal, and Borris Miles about what has transpired so far are beneath the fold. Get ready for another all nighter tomorrow.


Statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman:

The House Budget, So Far

The House today worked through Articles I-III of House Bill 1. As we expected, the House budget is shaping up to be a shameful product that’s putting the lives of Texans at risk. Republicans voted to take away medication from individuals living with HIV. People could die as a result of this vote.

Republicans today tried to pit grandparents against children during their amendments. They voted to lay off teachers, close schools, and cram more children into our classrooms.

I was disappointed that one of my amendments, which would have made us aware of the taunting and trauma that many of our children experience at school, was rejected by Republicans. This amendment would have cost the state nothing, and would have allowed us to better protect our children.

I was proud that the House overwhelmingly rejected an amendment forcing universities to use funds on “Western Civilization” courses. It is a problem when individuals bring hateful amendments that target individuals based on their ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. That type of behavior is out of order in the greatest democracy in the world.

There was a unanimous voice vote to move my amendment on retired teacher health care to Article XI where it will be considered in the Conference Committee on House Bill 1. This amendment would increase the funds to TRS-Care – the program administered by the Teacher Retirement System that provides health care for our retired school teachers and retired public school employees.

As health care costs continue to rise with health inflation, it is imperative that we find a solution to relieve the burden on those who have dedicated their lives to public service by educating our children. I’ll continue to advocate strongly for this increase to ensure that our retired teachers can afford the health insurance that was promised as a part of their retirement benefits.

Statement from Rep. Mike Villarreal:

During a marathon debate on the state budget in the Texas House of Representatives yesterday, legislators in each party demonstrated conflicting priorities.

Republican budget amendments focused on cutting deeply into access to contraception and basic women’s health programs, which do not include abortion services. Republican legislators filed 19 amendments to reduce access to family planning services. The House spent several hours debating the amendments and approving them over Democratic objections.

Democratic amendments focused on prioritizing education. For example, Rep. Mike Villarreal filed an amendment to fully fund the TEXAS Grants financial aid program if the Legislature approves use of the Rainy Day Fund for the next two years. Republicans voted down the amendment and many other Democratic education amendments.

Following the debate, Rep. Villarreal said, “My community has asked me to prioritize education, and that’s what Democrats tried to do. I find it hard to believe that voters want us to focus on ending access to contraception and women’s health care, but Republican legislators made that their number one priority.”

Rep. Villarreal went on to say, “Republicans are defunding the very programs that reduce unplanned pregnancy while voting against educating our children. What on earth are they thinking?”

Statement from Rep. Borris Miles:

For the second week in a row, I am writing you from the House floor and witnessing irreparable damage being done to our state. The House is in the midst of debating the state budget that will lay off thousands of teachers, close more than half the nursing homes in Texas, and cost the state hundreds of thousands of jobs. My Democratic colleagues and I have attempted to pass amendments to ease the pain of this budget but Republicans are forcing a series of party line votes with no debate which make a mockery of the legislative process.

This budget crisis was not caused by the economy, but by an absence of leadership in this state. Governor Perry irresponsibly signed into law tax reforms in 2006 that even the Republican comptroller at the time said was not sound and would create budget catastrophes in the future. Working families will now pay the price for the Governor’s fiscal irresponsibility.

Texas is going to cut education funding which will not only close schools but lay off a hundred thousand employees. The Governor may not believe he is responsible for the layoffs of thousands of teachers, but his signature should be printed on the pink slips of the laid off teachers as they walk out the door of their classroom for the final time.

This budget will put elderly Texans into the street, leaving their residents and families with few options for care. The proposed state budget cuts Medicaid reimbursements for nursing homes by over 30% when the loss of federal matching funds are added in. More than half of the nursing homes across the state will close. While Republicans may just see these cuts as numbers on a piece of paper, it is our elderly who will be hurt. These cuts will devastate the Seven Acres Jewish Senior Care Services facility in my district and threaten the ability of St. Dominic Village from continuing to provide care for retired clergy and their other elderly residents. We are supposed to cherish the elders of our community but this Governor has cast them out and decided that their health and well being is just not that important.

This state, like the rest of the country, is taking its first steps out of the worst recession in decades and this budget will cause Texas to go backwards. Jobs are still scarce and we need every single one to keep our communities afloat. So how does the Republican leadership respond? They are asking us to vote for a budget that will cost this state 335,000 public and private sector jobs. When we lose these jobs, we are taking food out of the mouths of families all over this state.

While the Governor of this state looks to higher office and caters to the fringe elements of his party, families in Texas will feel real pain, heartache and hunger. The cuts in this budget are so severe that all Texas families, rich or poor, black or white, urban or rural, will soon be looking at classrooms with 35 kids and wondering why their elderly parents’ nursing home is closed.

I’d like to invite the Governor to look in the eyes of the students in my district and try to explain to them that the $7.8 billion cut to public education has nothing to do with the closings of Grimes Elementary and Woodson Middle Schools. I’d like the Governor to look into the eyes of the elderly and tell them where they are supposed to live when their nursing home is closed. I’d like the Governor to look into the eyes of the mother or father who just lost their job and explain to them how they’ll put food on the table. I’d like the Governor to look into the eyes of someone with HIV and explain why he can no longer get his medication.

This debate should be about providing the best possible education for our students, the best possible health care for the elderly, the best possible life for the men, women and children of this state. But instead, this budget will cut education, cut healthcare and cut the workforce. We should not be asking our citizens to settle for less but make the system more fair by eliminating corporate tax loopholes and tax exemptions. How can the leaders of this state ask for your respect when they show you none? Today is a dark day for all Texans. I’ll keep the faith and keep the fight.

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5 Comments

  1. Ross says:

    Any links to the alleged tax loopholes? It’s hard to judge what the politicos are saying if there’s no details.

    Rhetorically, why is it taxpayer’s responsibility to fund nursing home care? Are those folks in the homes destitute? Have they spent their last dime? I know they “don’t want to spend the kid’s inheritance”, but, really, if you have money in the bank, it’s not unreasonable to expect you to exhaust it before you hit up the rest of us.

  2. texaschick says:

    Ross,

    Faces Behind the Budget Cuts
    http://www.texasobserver.org/cover-story/faces-behind-the-budget-cuts

    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7457803.html
    excerpt
    “Elderly worried
    Some nursing homes, particularly for-profit facilities, would likely have to consider charging higher rates , administrators said.

    “We’re already under-reimbursed,” said Jim Levermann, financial advisor for St. James House in Baytown. “We have no margin to reduce or take these cuts.”

    James Runnels, 81, lives at St. James Home because he has diabetes and cataracts and cannot care for himself. He said the proposed cuts would displace a lot of people, including himself.

    “I might not have a place to go,” Runnels said. “My niece, she does as much as she can, but she works every day. I think about the difference it’s made for me being here. I’m worried.”

    Gerald Harris, 77, a resident at Seven Acres, said he hopes lawmakers change their minds. He said he receives good care at his nursing home and worries about program and service cutbacks.

    “Without Medicaid, we will be in trouble,” he said.”

  3. Ross – The nursing homes take Medicaid, and many of them are saying they won’t be able to stay open if Medicaid rates get cut. And speaking from the experience of some friends who’ve had parents in homes, you do pretty much have to liquidate everything before Medicaid kicks in and you are qualified for it.

  4. […] great wrap up with several statements from Democratic legislators.  Best to read the whole thing, Budget debate resumes tomorrow, but here a snippet: This is the fundamental difference between the House and Senate approaches. […]

  5. mary t. says:

    Yes, you do not want to be elderly and poor in Texas–especially now. In order to qualify for medicaid for nursing home care you really cannot have any assets, and by the time most people start thinking about long term care insurance they can’t qualify for it because of a “pre-existing condition.”

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