Jason Embry sums it up.
Nearly every Republican in the Texas House placed a bet Sunday night that the residents of their district will support taking billions of dollars out of the public school system.
In voting for the House’s proposed state budget, 98 of the chamber’s 101 Republicans supported a plan giving school districts about $7.8 billion less than the state owes them under current law. That’s about $870 less per student for schools to spend each year.
The budget cuts funding for pre-kindergarten, school technology, teacher incentive pay and programs that aim to stoke student interest in math and science. Most significantly, it is the driving force behind the elimination of thousands of jobs in school districts across the state.
Lawmakers made deep cuts across state government because the state faces a huge budget shortfall caused by a variety of factors, some of them outside state lawmakers’ control and some a result of their decisions. The House’s decision to leave more than $6 billion sitting in the state’s rainy day fund added to the severity of the cuts.
That a majority of lawmakers supported such reductions shows that they think voters, first and foremost, want them to cut spending and fight tax increases.
You know what I think about that, so I won’t repeat myself. I’d agree that a majority of the voters who showed up last year wanted spending cuts, though whether they wanted these particular cuts is another question altogether. There will also be a lot of voters coming out in 2012 who didn’t show up in 2010, and I’d bet most of them weren’t expecting this. One way or another, the electorate will be very different, and I expect the verdict to be different as well.
And despite the party line votes up and down the amendment process for HB1, there’s evidence that the Republicans themselves are a little twitchy about what they’ve done.
Less than two days after approving a state budget that cuts $23 billion from current spending, House leaders are already talking among themselves about how much more money they’d be willing to spend.
House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts said this afternoon that he’s already asked Rep. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, who heads the House Republican Caucus, whether the conservatives in the House would be willing to spend another $5 billion if it can be located.
“I asked the caucus chair, ‘If I brought you a bill back that’s $5 billion more than we had on the floor, what would be the reaction from the caucus?’ And he said, ‘Well, it depends on where the money comes from’,” Pitts said to reporters Tuesday afternoon after watching House Speaker Joe Straus be interviewed on the University of Texas campus.
The House bill walked past some easy-to-get money in writing its $164.5 billion budget plan. Deferred expenses aren’t in there, for instance, and Pitts has legislation that would accelerate tax collections and raise at least $1 billion and perhaps much more (“Frankly, I had good news today that I don’t have any industry opposition to it,” Pitts said). There are funds outside of the treasury that might be available, like an endowment set up years ago in a settlement between the state and big tobacco companies. And a group of senators is working on a list of suggestions for non-tax revenue that might become public this week and that could total $10 billion.
“I think we can make it go better,” said Pitts to reporters after the Straus interview ended. And he listed some areas that he says must be improved: TEXAS Grants, nursing home Medicaid shortfalls, and public schools.
“You know, it’s funny. Since we passed the bill on Sunday night, I’ve had some of the members that are more of the ‘We came here to cut’ and you know there’s a big group, especially freshmen, who feel like they’ve been mandated to cut,” Pitts said. “But they’re coming to me and they want, ‘Don’t cut this program, or don’t cut that program. Don’t cut in my back yard’. So, we may start hearing more of that and they may say, ‘If there’s some new revenue, we won’t have those cuts in my back yard.’ It’s been real interesting the last couple of days.”
Yeah, well, the cuts they want to make are the kind that affect other people. Turns out that’s not so easy to do. And even if the finished product is marginally less crappy, Republicans have already said what their preferences are. They’ve placed their bets. I’ll take my chances with that.