From Criminal Justice Cuts to Steroid Testing


Day 21 of the 82nd Texas Legislature

With the voter ID debate behind us (at least in the Senate), the Texas Legislature will hopefully be tackling the bigger problems facing the Lone Star State—that is, if lawmakers aren’t too busy dealing with another one of Perry’s emergency items. Given the unprecedented budget shortfall, reports of spending cuts, slashed programs, and general budgetary malaise keep rolling in. The Texas Association of Counties has released a list of unfunded mandates proposed in the House budget draft, which include some alarming cuts in criminal justice programs. Schools are considering unpaid furloughs as an option to reduce layoffs, and legislators are describing the transportation budget as one hot mess. It looks like no state program or fund will escape from this crisis unscathed, not even Gov. Rick Perry’s precious economic development funds or Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s steroid testing program for high school athletes. The Senate Finance Committee, scheduled to begin holding hearings today at 10 a.m., has its work cut out for it.


1. Criminal Injustice

The Texas Association of Counties has released a list of unfunded mandates included in the House budget proposal and it’s not looking good for our criminal justice system. According to the blog Grits for Breakfast, the TAC list includes a 56 percent reduction in criminal justice grants from the governor’s office, a 21 percent cut to adult probation funding, and a 28 percent reduction in funding for juvenile justice alternative education programs. [Grits for Breakfast]


2. Budgetary Traffic Jam

Texas’s transportation funding may be running out of gas in the near future. According to Texas lawmakers, the state will soon be spending more money per year repaying the $11.9 billion (estimated to cost $21 billion after all is said and done) borrowed for past road construction than it will be spending on new highways and roads. Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, put it bluntly, “In the absence of further action by the Legislature this session, we will literally be out of money for new construction by 2012.” [Houston Chronicle] [My San Antonio]


3. Another One Bites the Dust

Steroid testing programs for Texas high school athletes may be cut to save money during these tough fiscal times. The first draft of the House budget eliminates the $2 million allotted for the program, but the Senate version of the budget still provides funding for the randomized drug checks. The elimination of the program is causing some debate, with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, an early proponent, expressing his intent to fight for the tests. [Fort Worth Star Telegram]


4. SOS: Save Our Schools

State Senate Education Chair Florance Shapiro, R-Plano, is suggesting that school districts have the option to cut salaries and give unpaid furloughs in lieu of laying off teachers. Based on the House draft budget, one expert estimated up to 100,000 teachers would be laid off over the next two years. This comes with a $9.8 billion cut in state education funding. A group of superintendents from the Texas Association of School Boards will hold a press conference today to urge law makers to consider new revenue and using the rainy day fund to help save our schools. [Houston Chronicle]


5. Perry’s Precious

Amid talk of firing teachers and closing nursing homes, legislators are beginning to eyeball Perry’s protected economic development funds as a possible way to alleviate our budget woes. According to the Statesman’s Laylan Copelin, “The House’s initial budget proposal includes only unspent balances carried over for the state’s Emerging Technology Fund and the Enterprise Fund, the two largest economic development funds, both managed by Gov. Perry. The Senate version diverts a third of the Enterprise Fund’s $151 million carryover balance to job training programs.” Some legislators have criticized Perry, who manages the Emerging Technology Fund and the Enterprise Fund, for using them to award political allies. [Austin American Statesman]