James McKinley's 'News' Story on Texas Budget Cuts: 'It Was Not a Pretty Picture'
GOP Gov. Rick Perry, who refuses to commit to Times-approved tax hikes, endured several stories from McKinley during his 2010 re-election battle cheering for his Democratic opponent. On Friday, McKinley again sounded more like an editorial writer than an objective reporter:
It is hard to overstate the budget-cutting furor that has gripped lawmakers in this capital, where the Republicans who control the Legislature and all statewide offices believe voters sent them an iron-clad mandate last year to shrink the size of government.
But the Texas government was already a relatively lean operation after years of conservative fiscal policies. So when the Texas House passed its budget bill last weekend, the depth of the cutbacks necessary for the Republican majority to stick to its promise of no new taxes became clearer. It was not a pretty picture.
The bill would slash $23 billion from the current level of state and federal spending over the next two-year budget cycle - a 12.3 percent reduction that does not take into account rising costs to meet the needs of Texas's growing population.
In a party-line vote, the House slaughtered dozens of sacred cows. The budget bill makes huge cuts to public education, nursing homes and health care for the poor. It slashes financing for highways, prisons and state parks. It eliminates full-day preschool, cuts teacher incentive pay and reduces scholarships for college students by two-thirds.
What galls state employees and many liberals in the state is the refusal by Gov. Rick Perry and his House allies to buffer some of the pain by tapping into the more than $6 billion left in an emergency fund fed by taxes on oil production. (Last month, the House approved using $3 billion from the fund to close a deficit in the current two-year budget.)
But Republican leaders in the House say that the state has to live with its reduced revenues. Raising taxes would hurt the economy, they say, and dipping into the Rainy Day Fund is unwise, given the prospect of cutbacks in federal aid.
McKinley again lays blame for the public's stubborn refusal to pay more in taxes.
But this year the two chambers are so far apart, and the public mood here is so hostile toward anything resembling a tax increase, that it is unclear how the two houses would bridge their differences. The House is not likely to accept any increases in revenue; the Senate is not likely to go along with the deep cuts in education and health care.
Veteran lawmakers on both sides said they were suffering from the public reaction against federal spending and the deficit in Washington, even though the state has little debt. In the Texas House, 31 freshman Republicans were swept in on the Tea Party tide on a small-government platform, and they are in no mood to compromise on raising taxes.
The House plan would give schools almost $8 billion less than current state law requires over the next two years. Medicaid would be short about $4 billion of what officials say is needed to meet the growth in case loads. One group of budget analysts predicted that 97,000 teachers and school employees would be laid off. Other analysts said that the cuts to Medicaid would force hundreds of nursing homes out of business and would have a devastating effect on rural hospitals and doctors.
Those sorts of austere budget cuts have not been seen in Texas since Truman was president, not even during the oil bust in the late 1980s and the recession in 2003, several lawmakers said.