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From Budget Cuts to, Well, More Budget Cuts

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Day Eight  of the Texas Legislature

Hot List-ers, the first budget day is finally here. That’s not necessarily a good thing. With an unprecedented shortfall—to maintain current government services would cost $27 billion more than we have—some of us have spent the last few weeks wondering just what areas would get hit the hardest.  Public education? Medicaid? State jobs? Well, today House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, will explain a budget that slashes all three, not to mention a whole lot of other stuff. This is just the first draftt; throughout the session, we’ll see it debated and changed many times. Currently, though, there is no new revenue or taxes in the budget and it doesn’t use a penny out of the state’s $9 billion piggy bank, the Rainy Day Fund. But while raising revenue isn’t popular, cutting  scholarships for college,and public education isn’t a traditional way to make friends either.

1. No More Teachers, No More Books

Hours after the barbecue smoke cleared from yesterday’s State Inauguration, Pitts gave House members the first draft of the budget. This early draft has the 2012-13 biennium budget sitting at $156.4 billion, which is $31.1 billion less than current spending. The preliminary budget slices a ton of financial aid for college students and forces four community college districts to close. Also on the chopping block is $9.8 billion in funding that public schools need to make up for enrollment increases and money for districts experiencing declines in property value. Belt-tighening measures, indeed. Or more like a “cleanse diet.” [Austin American-Statesman]

2. Doctor, My Eyes

The budget proposal also reduces Medicaid by 30 percent overall. And after facing a 1 percent fee decrease last spring, doctors, nursing homes and hospitals could see a additional 10 percent drop in reimbursement rates. More than 9,000 state-funded jobs were also cut in the plan. It’s ugly, folks. Pitts is poised to take questions from his colleagues today. From the looks of things, he’s going to have his hands full. [Dallas Morning News]

3. Inauguration

A lot of people prefer politicking to policy—after all, elections are exciting and actually governing can be a bit trickier. Luckily for the fine Texans who came out for Tuesday’s State Inauguration, both Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst gave speeches that seemed more like campaign rhetoric. Both men highlighted two seemingly contradictory goals—taking care of the needy and keeping taxes low. The state will protect and help “the frail, the young, the elderly. The people on fixed income. Those in situations of abuse and neglect,” promised Perry in his address after being sworn in. “But we cannot risk the future of millions of taxpayers in the process.” There’s some flawed logic there, but it got some applause. And in campaigns, sometimes cheers drown out nuance. [Texas Observer]

4. Polling

Well, less than a week after U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison announced she was heading into the proverbial, political sunset, there’s already polling on just which potential candidate might get the seat next. The poll, put out by left-leaning Public Policy Polling, highlighted four Republicans and three Democrats. Not so shockingly, the Republicans outperformed the Democrats, with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst performing best of all. Perhaps even sadder for the Democrats, while the Republican candidates considered make sense (all four have been pretty open about giving a run at least some consideration) of the three Democratic candidates in the survey, two—San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards—seem pretty unlikely to run. [Texas Independent]

5. The Not-So-Worthy Opposition

When a state budget looking as tough as this one, it’s pretty easy to stand around looking stern and upset. Just ask the Democratic lawmakers, who are holding a press conference today on the budget. Here’s a prediction for you: the Ds won’t be happy about the budget. They will likely discuss the cuts, particularly to popular items like public ed, and they may start in on what caused the budget crisis. (Our taxing structure, even when operating at full speed, doesn’t exactly cover the state’s costs). The risk is getting too wonk-y. Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, told the Dallas Morning News that his party will have to “re-evaluate” its message and fix the “flat tire.” [Dallas Morning News]