Lege lacks ‘enough guts to draw a buzzard’
“It’s the worst session I’ve ever seen,” said the lobbyist, a former legislator of more than a decade. “Everybody over there’s scared to death.
“Rick Perry’s running for vice-president,” the lobbyist continued. “David Dewhurst’s running for the U.S. Senate, and every statewide non-judicial elected official wants to run for something else.”
The lobbyist, no raving liberal, was aghast at the position of Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus to reach a balanced budget through spending cuts alone.
He echoed the sense of impending doom expressed by superintendents, principals, teachers, university administrators and others who think the cuts-only approach is fueled by the political ambitions of Perry and, to a lesser extent, Dewhurst, and is dangerous to the future of Texas and its schoolchildren.
On the health care front, many doctors, hospital administrators and other medical professionals are horrified at the impact they think the Legislature’s Texas chainsaw massacre of cuts will have if it is anywhere close to what passed the Texas House.
Governors and legislators in the past – Democrat John Connally in the 1960s, Democrat Mark White and Republican Bill Clements in the 1980s, Democrat Ann Richards in the 1990s -- faced up to the need for more resources for education and health care. They either called for new taxes, or at least allowed them.
Fast-forward to 2011. Gov. Perry has turned thumbs-down on new taxes. He finally acquiesced in spending just over $3 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help make up a shortfall in the budget for the current fiscal year.
But Perry opposes taking more from the fund for education and health care. He wants it reserved for natural disasters, like Hurricane Ike that wrecked Galveston in 2008.
Critics think Perry can respond to dramatic disasters like hurricanes. Call out the National Guard. Declare an emergency. Helicopter over the wreckage.
But for the harder-to-see disasters, like the tsunami in slow motion bearing down on the state’s education and health care systems, Perry doesn’t declare an emergency, or call out the guard.
He says he won’t sign legislation to use that remaining $6 billion or so from the Rainy Day Fund – despite the pleas of teachers and other educators, and parents, who carry signs to some of Perry’s appearances around the state, imploring him to rescue Texas kids.
(He did not say he would veto further appropriations of money from the fund. The Texas governor can allow a bill to become law without his signature.)
The Rainy Day Fund was created in the late 1980s to provide reserves to pay recurring costs when revenues are short. The comptroller can add part of oil and gas tax revenues that exceed what was collected in 1987, plus some of any leftover general revenue at the end of a biennium.
Perry and the Legislature have used the Rainy Day Fund in past years.
• 2003: Perry also insisted that a $10 billion shortfall be handled solely through spending cuts, without more taxes. The Legislature appropriated $1.3 billion from the fund.
• 2005: $1.9 billion was spent from the fund.
• 2007: the fund was not used; rapid economic growth was foreseen.
• 2009: the fund also was not tapped, as the governor and Legislature used $16 billion in stimulus money to supplant general revenue to balance the state’s budget – even as the governor criticized the stimulus.
Meanwhile, top legislators and others warn of a structural deficit created when a new business tax in 2006 to replace revenue from a property tax cut has fallen about $10 billion short every two years – and will continue to do so unless changes are made.
Perry so far has put forth no suggestions about what to do.
While people associated with the Tea Party demonstrated behind the capitol recently against touching the Rainy Day Fund, another, much larger group gathered in front of the capitol, calling for it to be spent on needs they consider critical.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities, which seeks to see that services are provided for children and poor people, advocates spending the Rainy Day Fund now to avoid crippling cuts in education and health care. That, the group says, makes far more sense than saving the money to deal with shortfalls later.
Another moderate former lawmaker, not identified because of his sensitive position, was around when the Legislature raised taxes in 1984 to improve schools and teacher salaries.
He is disgusted with the legislators following the cuts-only approach of those in control.
“I’m ashamed of them and for them,” he said. “There’s not enough guts in the capitol to draw a good flock of buzzards.”
Contact McNeely at email@example.com or (512) 458- 2963.