The press conference held by House Democrats immediately after today’s budget discussion would probably have looked like a funeral to anyone peeking in. In a sense, with public and higher education funding taking a serious beating and health and human service programs being drastically reduced as part of the preliminary budget proposal, that might not have been totally incorrect.
Representatives, eyes cast down and heads hanging low, expressed their disapproval with the first budget draft, which House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts had just laid out. The proposal allots $156.4 billion for spending, down nearly 17% from the previous biennium. Among the cuts: $9.8 billion less funding for public schools, a 10 percent reduction in Medicaid reimbursements paid to doctors, nursing homes and hospitals, and the closure of four community colleges. Democrats also solemnly denounced the elimination of pre-K grant funding and financial aid programs used by upwards of 60,000 college students.
State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, likened the preliminary budget to asking “an anorexic person to lose more weight.”
“We’re already, as a state, fiftieth in per capita spending,” he said. “We literally are dead last in our nation to what we spend on our residents.”
Castro and others who spoke after him complained that the budget plan assumed a zero percent growth rate for Medicaid caseloads and public schools—in a state with an exploding population. “This base budget is unwilling to accommodate that growth, to help that growth or to feed it,” Castro said.
The Democrats criticized the state’s current tax structure, pointing to the 2006 margins tax that failed to deliver the revenue it promised. Children will now be left without early education, first-generation college students will miss out on financial aid and the elderly will lose support. As the litany of consequences wore on, Gallego dared anyone to call the budget shortfall “speculative.”
“How you can argue your way into believing that we don’t know we have a shortfall, or that we don’t have a shortfall,” Gallego said. “To me, that’s preposterous.”
Not that the Democrats had many answers. They danced around solutions until one reporter asked directly about raising taxes. Acknowledging that they simply don’t have the power to do much, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he would support using portions of the Rainy Day Fund and then eliminating tax exemptions. Beyond that, he argued, it’s out of the Dems’ hands.
“[Republicans] have the power to raise taxes, we don’t,” he said. “When you look down the line, and you want less government and if you want to do it through reductions, and that’s the paradigm [Republicans] have established, then this is what you’re going to be getting.”