There has been a major philosophical change in this House, whether you want to realize it or not,” Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) told his fellow representatives from the front microphone. It was April 16, minutes before they voted to send their version of the 2004-2005 budget to the Senate.
Berman was one of 16 members who rose to speak about controversial budget cuts in the bill. Most of the speakers were Democrats who caustically derided as cruel, heartless, and fiscally reckless a budget that will slash the stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s social service safety net, and boot 600,000 children off of Medicaid and the ChildrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Health Insurance Program. After listening to DemocratsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ doomsday predictions and withering criticisms, including Dallas Rep. Yvonne DavisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ remark that Republicans werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t representing their constituentsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ best interests, Berman couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t contain himself.
His constituents, Berman explained, are average Texas taxpayersÃ¢â‚¬”good, hard-working folks who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t use social service programs like CHIP and Medicaid. “Ms. Davis, I congratulate you for the way you represent your district,” Berman said. “But please give us credit for knowing how to represent our districts. My district is absolutely different from your district. In my district, we have very few people who are on Medicaid or who need care.”
Really? A visit to the comptrollerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s website indicates that BermanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s district is in one of the counties most dependent on public assistance in the state. Smith County, which covers BermanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s entire District 6 (and a sliver of Republican Tommy MerrittÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s District 7) received more than $439 million in state funds for its 178,000 residents in 2001. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s $2,515 per resident. While precise data by district is not available, by comparison, Harris County got $2,150 per resident in state funds. Ms. DavisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Dallas County received $2,049 per resident. More than a third of Smith CountyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s state funding went toward public-assistance programs, which translates to $873 per resident, more per capita public assistance than went to Harris County ($727 per resident) or Dallas County ($695 per resident). Cuts in funding for Smith County will inevitably harm the areas Berman represents.
It also might surprise Berman to learn that the percentage of Smith County residents enrolled in Medicaid is among the highest in the state. According to the Health and Human Services Commission, 11 percent of Smith CountyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s population was enrolled in Medicaid in 2002, right there with urban areas such as Harris County (10.5 percent), Dallas County (10.3 percent) and El Paso County (16 percent).
“I do get some state funds, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s very true,” Berman later said when asked about his speech. “But weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not as dependent on them in my district. When we first come , weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re told to vote our district. I represent a district which is very, very conservative. My district does not want any more taxes.” Berman added that he respects and understands Democrats, but his Republican views won a mandate in the November election. “We have control now,” Berman said. “Get a life. Get used to it.”
And reality be damned. Ã¢â‚¬”D.M.