AUSTIN - Texas would slash support for public schools, cut at least 60,000 college students from financial aid and decrease Medicaid fees by 10 percent to doctors, nursing homes and hospitals under a budget plan that House leaders unveiled late Tuesday.
The $156.4 billion budget for 2012-13 would fill a huge hole by whacking $31.1 billion from current spending of state and federal money — a nearly 17 percent reduction.
No taxes would be increased, as GOP leaders have pledged. Nor would the state tap any of $9.4 billion in the state’s rainy-day fund.
Lawmakers, though, would have to rewrite school-funding formulas because the House leaders’ plan falls $9.8 billion short of obligations to school districts and charter schools.
“They’ve got to pass a major school finance bill with major cuts in it,” said school finance expert Dan Casey, who predicts renewed interest in a lawsuit against the state “if you see cuts of this magnitude and no changes in standards.”
The House budget would push Texas into uncharted territory, he said.
“There isn’t anybody – even the more veteran legislators – that have been through those kinds of reductions,” Casey said.
The House plan kicks off a budget brawl that won’t be decided until late May, at the earliest. Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the House’s chief budget writer, is expected to explain the plan to House members Wednesday. The Senate will unveil its bare-bones spending plan sometime next week, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said.
Gov. Rick Perry, who also must submit a budget plan soon but is not a key player until late in the process, said in his inaugural speech Tuesday that the final budget would protect “people whose needs are greater than the resources at their disposal.” But the Republican governor said austerity is required, to protect job creation.
Under the House plan, public schools, which teach reading and arithmetic to future workers, would receive no extra money to cover enrollment increases. Nor would districts be given more state funds, as currently required, to offset declining local property values.
“That’s catastrophic for any fast-growing districts" said Casey, a former adviser to the Legislature on school finance who now has a thriving private consulting practice.
The budget would eliminate funds for the nation’s largest experiment in teacher merit pay. Also zeroed out would be the main remedial program created by Texas in 1999, as it required students in certain grades to pass achievement tests to be promoted.
“You’re going to have the same rising standards and less financial help for the support that will make students successful,” Casey said.
In higher education, no new applicants would be accepted for several financial aid programs. The largest, Texas Grants, which serves 87,000 students this year, would only help 27,000 in 2013, budget documents show.
In the Medicaid program for the poor, Texas would decrease overall spending by nearly 30 percent. The House plan would take away some services for adults that federal law doesn’t require states to offer, though budget writers specify which ones. It also would deduct 10 percent, in addition to last spring’s 1 percent cut, from reimbursements to doctors, dentists, hospitals and nursing homes.
As The Dallas Morning News reported recently, a state agency would have to close two of the 13 institutions for the mentally disabled, once called state schools. A sister agency would have to privatize one of the state’s 10 mental hospitals and withhold community-based treatments to nearly 5,000 of the 65,000 mentally ill now helped.
Nearly 7,000 fewer deaf, blind and disabled Texans would receive vocational rehabilitation — a 7 percent trim. Child abuse prevention funds would be cut by more than one-third. Nearly one-fifth of the 32,000 young children with serious developmental disabilities now getting help would do so no longer.
Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, decried the proposed cuts as threats to “essential functions of government.”
However, conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan denounced “crisis mongering” by critics of the plan.
“Tax-and-spend liberals would have us believe that all music, joy and laughter will fade away unless legislators hike spending and raise taxes,” said Sullivan, who heads the anti-tax group Empower Texans.
Across state government, the House plan would eliminate 9,610 of the 240,000 jobs now funded through the state budget. Overall, there are about 311,000 state employees, counting higher education jobs funded by tuition and local property taxes.
House leaders’ proposed budget for the next two year cycle, which begins Sept. 1, would make these cuts:
*Close prison unit in Sugar Land, 2,000 private prison beds and up to three youth lockups
*Trim state border security efforts by about 30 percent
*Reduce indigent defense grants to counties by 15 percent
*Cut in half funds for the poor to have lawyers in civil suits
*Eliminate teacher merit pay and remedial help for students failing TAKS tests
*Cut at least 60,000 college students from financial aid
*Decrease Medicaid fees by 10 percent to doctors, nursing homes, hospitals
*Give Emerging Technology Fund no additional state funds. Gov. Rick Perry’s pet fund to help high-tech startups, which The Dallas Morning News reported last year has awarded more than $16 million to Perry campaign donors, could use $21 million, though, that it hasn’t spent in the current cycle.
SOURCE: Legislative Budget Board, Dallas Morning News research