That’s exactly what the Republicans did in the budget that came into effect last week.
Cash-strapped state lawmakers – led by Gov. Rick Perry’s stand against raising taxes or dipping too deeply into the state rainy day fund – cut appropriations for the Texas Forest Service even as they had to dig for more money to meet its existing expenses.
Even the supplemental spending bill they passed this year won’t be enough to cover the expense of fighting fires through Aug. 31, the end of the 2010-11 fiscal period.
The Texas Forest Service, the state’s lead agency for fighting wildfires, anticipates it will need another $61 million just to cover those costs.
More money also will be needed to cover expenses in the 2012-13 budget period that began Sept. 1, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.
Ogden said he didn’t have a number on how much additional funding the agency would need in 2012-13, “but it’s going to be a lot.” He also said the state is “well-positioned to cover our financial obligations.”
The Texas Forest Service was appropriated $117.7 million for the 2010-2011 fiscal period, which ended Aug. 31. It was appropriated $83 million for 2012-13, according to the agency.
The Forest Service’s associate director of finance and administration, Robby Dewitt, when asked whether the funding cut affected agency staffing, equipment or ability to fight fires, said by e-mail, “The budget cuts for FY2012-13 have had no impact on the current wildfire response approach.”
Ogden said the only significant cut to the Forest Service budget was a grant program for volunteer fire departments. He said it’s a good program but said, “The reason we did it is because the budget was tight and we had to cut it.”
He and DeWitt said the service’s operating budget was flat.
DeWitt said the Forest Service uses a “tiered approach” in fighting wildfires, relying on volunteer and paid fire departments as “the first line of defense.” After that, the Forest Service and other state agencies assist, and then the state brings in federal resources.
Perry is of course already whining about federal resources not being fast enough to suit him. These fires are going to cost a ton to fight, and given how long the drought may last, we’re probably going to be doing a lot more paying. Just because you don’t adequately budget for something doesn’t mean the need for it goes away. As for those volunteer fire fighters who are key to dousing these blazes, this wire story from May discusses how the reduction in grant money will affect them.
Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association, said volunteer fire departments rely heavily on grant funding. He said $135 million in requests are backlogged from volunteer fire departments.
“That alone should say that the departments out there greatly need the funding,” he told Reuters.
“Stuff in the fire service is not cheap,” Barron added.
He said many volunteer fire departments already have worn-down equipment and without funding for new equipment, response times will almost certainly increase.
I sure hope they have what they need to do this job, and the ones that will surely follow.