Produce or cut firewood?
The nephew, reflecting on it later, realized his uncle was planning to plant more trees to feed future generations – although he probably knew it was highly unlikely he’d be around to see them get old enough to produce a full crop.
Now, flash to Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature. Texas, like several other states, has a big budget problem. The revenue estimators say the state would need about $27 billion more than they anticipate coming in to finance the next two years of Texas government at current rates of spending.
That’s about a fourth of the general revenue budget over which legislators have control.
The governor and legislative leaders say to meet their responsibility to present a balanced budget, they plan to handle the revenue shortfall by cutting spending, not by raising taxes or spending the $9 billion-plus in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
They might find no money at all, and their opening shot assumes the worst. The short form: The Texas House opened with a $156.4 billion budget that’s $31.1 billion smaller than its predecessor, a drop of 16.6 percent from the current two-year spending plan.
Depending upon one’s attitude toward various government programs, the governor and lawmakers are being frugal, wise stewards of the public’s money, or reckless radicals kicking down the barn they’re going to need next year.
Using the pecan farmer analogy, instead of planting trees for the future, the governor and Legislature may “save” money by chopping down the existing trees and selling them for firewood.
Rep. Jim Pitts, chairman of the appropriations committee of the Texas House of Representatives, presented a budget rough draft on Wednesday, Jan. 19, that over the course of the two-year spending cycle would be $9.8 billion less for public schools than is called for in the current school funding formula.
Pitts, R-Waxahachie, was quite direct in saying that if the cuts were made to balance the budget without new revenue sources, the impact of many of the cuts would be brutal.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, summed up the attitude of many of the diminished number of Democratic legislators toward many of the proposed cuts.
“We’re already as a state 50th in per-capita spending, so you’ve got to ask yourself when you see a base budget like this, at what point is this budget akin to asking an anorexic person to lose more weight?”
And what Texans – and several legislators -- are beginning to learn is that some of the activities they take for granted are partially or wholly paid for with tax dollars.
For instance, Pitts’ budget rough draft proposed to cut some expenditures on junior colleges by closing four of them.
Pitts’ fellow Republican, Jim Keffer of Eastland, wasn’t all that fond of the idea. One of them – Ranger College, in Ranger -- is in his House district.
“We have seen what the budget is going to look like, and we’ve got to go (now from) campaigning to governing,” Keffer told his legislative colleagues during the period of questioning Pitts. Closing the school is “the height of irresponsibility.”
Pitts said he’d work with legislators. “You know,” he added, “there’s nothing in this bill that’s not painful. ... I hope we can keep these community colleges open.”
Rep. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton, one of the other three Republicans with colleges in their districts that the budget draft proposed to close, made an impromptu visit to Brazosport College in Lake Jackson on Thursday, and pledged that it would remain open.
In 15 years in the House, “Never, ever, have I made a promise or a guarantee,” Bonnen said. “Ever. Politicians who make them are setting themselves up for failure. I’ve never done it. But I’m doing it today. We will fund this college.”’
Rep. Tryon Lewis of Odessa, where a community college is also on the closing list, sent a statement to his district saying that, “Defunding Odessa College would be a terrible mistake.
“Eliminating funding to this institution would be devastating to the quality of higher education available in an area of approximately one-eighth of our state,” Lewis said.
“This is only a preliminary version of the budget, and it will certainly be amended before final passage,” Lewis said. “I am confident that fair funding will be maintained.”
Sure enough, the Senate’s rough draft budget, which became available over the weekend, cuts about as much as the House’s. But it keeps the four colleges.
It remains to be seen whether those community colleges are considered new groves to produce pecans for future generations, or firewood.
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For a much more extensive look at some of the proposed cuts in the House bill, check out the Texas Tribune analysis at http://www.texastribune.org/texas-taxes/2011-budget-shortfall/texas-hous... proposes-sweeping-cuts/.
Longtime Texas political columnist Dave McNeely, who retired from the Austin American-Statesman in 2004, writes a weekly column on Texas politics for three dozen Texas newspapers. With longtime Dallas journalist and author Jim Henderson, McNeely is the author of “Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.” Contact him at email@example.com or (512) 458-2963.