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April 22, 2011 - Session Watch

State budget should have been priority from Day 1

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

When the Legislature returns from its Easter break next Tuesday, the starting gun will fire on a five-week sprint to the end of the regular session. Much remains to be done, but the main focus of this critical period will be a battle over the budget that will determine what kind of state Texas will be.

With so much at stake, I think it's important that the people of Senate District 19 understand the broad outlines of the vastly different House and Senate spending plans and how this budget battle could play out. Make no mistake; what we do here at the Capitol over the next month will affect your future and that of your family and community.

The Senate Finance Committee has produced a 2012-2013 budget that is vastly superior to House Bill 1, which would slash $23 billion from current spending.

The two-year House plan would reduce current spending on public education by almost $8 billion, forcing teacher layoffs and school closings; block college financial aid programs to students who aren't already participating, and cut reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers, which will certainly lead to the closure of nursing homes and fewer children receiving basic health care.

According the Legislative Budget Board, the House bill will cause the loss of 335,000 public and private sector jobs across Texas over the next two years.

The Senate plan would spend at least $16 billion more than the House plan. That's still a significant reduction from the current budget, but drastic cuts would be avoided for schools, nursing homes, and Medicaid reimbursements for doctors who treat children, seniors and the disabled.

The Senate bill also softens the blow to college financial aid and acknowledges that Texas has transportation needs, allowing the use of $3 billion in general-obligation bonds and providing debt service for an additional $1 billion in bonds.

While the House measure relies on budget cuts alone to address the deficit, the Senate plan would require some additional revenues, and budget writers are looking everywhere they can.

The most obvious source of revenues that would not require new taxes is the Rainy Day Fund, which could provide more than $6 billion. Yet, the Rainy Day Fund has been placed off limits by Gov. Perry as a partial solution for the next budget.

While I agree that we should not completely exhaust this fund — after all, there are more rainy days ahead — I believe we must use a significant portion. We cannot leave it untapped while school districts hand out pink slips to teachers and our seniors are kicked out of nursing homes.

Senate Bill 1 could address Texas' fundamental needs, but it will not emerge intact from a House-Senate conference committee. The final bill is destined to look more like House Bill 1, and that is unacceptable to me any many of my Senate colleagues. We are ready and willing to fight for a better deal for the people of Texas.

This predicament shows the folly of not including the budget as an emergency item at the beginning of the session, as the governor did with Voter ID, the sonogram bill, eminent domain, the federal balanced budget resolution and sanctuary cities, which has yet to pass either house.

Perhaps if the budget had been treated as a priority from Day 1, Senate and House budget committees could have resolved the structural deficit that ensures another shortfall in 2013 and found new revenues through tax reform and non-tax sources.

But as it is, some of my colleagues in the Legislature argue that House Bill 1 actually doesn't cut enough, and they steadfastly oppose developing any new sources of revenue or using the Rainy Day Fund. They contend that was the message voters sent last year on Election Day.

I respectfully disagree. I don't believe that teacher layoffs, overcrowded schools and empty nursing homes are what you had in mind. That's not what we want for Texas.

Visit Senator Uresti's News page and Calendar
to keep up to date with Senate District 19.

©2011 Carlos Uresti Campaign  •  A.M. Hernandez, Treasurer  •  P.O. Box 240431  •  San Antonio, Texas  •  78224