On the Chopping Block

Talk about a day of hard realities. The Senate Finance Committee got a glimpse of just how little money it has to work with this session: $72.2 billion for the 2012-2013 biennium. That’s significantly less than the $87 billion in state money the Legislature spent on 2010-2011—and way less than the $100 billion some analysts say the state needs to maintain current services.

The Finance Committee heard the grim details in testimony from officials with the state Comptroller’s Office and Legislative Budget Board this morning. On top of that, senators learned the existing franchise tax is actually bringing in $2 billion less per year than originally expected, federal stimulus money is no more and, as much as some politicians like to cheerlead the Texas economy (looking at you, Gov. Perry), the state didn’t escape severe recession. An official from the Comptroller’s office even noted that Texas lost a higher percentage of jobs in this recent recession than in the infamous downturns of the 1980s.

As if that wasn’t enough, the more painful stuff came after lunch.

As directed by committee Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, the members dove right in and got to work on Article II of the budget—health and human services. Analysts and department heads from the Department of Assistive Rehabilitative Services and the Department of State Health Services delivered a litany of proposed cuts and consequences to the senators and a conference room full of advocates and journalists. Their testimony and the senators’ subsequent questions lasted nearly three and a half hours. As expected, some of the most vulnerable to cuts include blind and autistic children, developmentally disabled adults transitioning back into society and mental-health patients. 

When asked how many Texans would lose specific services, agency officials repeatedly said they didn’t know yet. They said their agencies were still calculating the impact of proposed cuts.

This frustrated state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. Though it’s early in the game (Senate Bill 1 was just released to last week), Whitmire pressed department heads and LBB analysts for more information, specifically many how many clients would lose services should reductions get approved.

“I need a face to these cuts,” he said repeatedly. “How do I get real life examples? These aren’t normal times—the cuts and impacts are significant.”

Indeed they are, and senators will get lambasted with more of the same as the week continues. The Health and Human Services Commission, Department of Family and Protective Services, and Department of Aging and Disability Services will get their chance on Tuesday beginning at 9 a.m.

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Alexa Garcia-Ditta is a staff writer (and former intern) covering women's health, reproductive health and health care access.

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