The lobbyist walked out of the capitol, disgustedly shaking his head. “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.
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.
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 left-over general revenue at the end of a biennium.
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.