Education, health care may face budget cuts

AddThis

82nd Legislature

The Texas House Appropriations Committee passed the 2012-13 biennium House budget bill, which will now head to the floor. The vote took under 20 minutes, without any debate among members, and resulted in 18-7 in favor. The House budget proposes reductions in two major areas: public education funding by $8.8 billion and health care by $16 billion. For the 2010-11 biennium, public education received $50 billion and health care received $65 billion. Appropriations committee chairman and author of the bill Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said budget writers tried to minimize cuts, but they were inevitable because education and health care comprise a large portion of the budget. Former House member and LBJ School lecturer Sherri Greenberg said the cuts of both areas are so high because they make up more than half of the budget combined. “If the desire of the leadership is to have a bill with no new revenue, you need to [cut] where the big dollars are,” Greenberg said. “Forty percent of that is public education and another 30 percent is health and human services, and a bulk of that is Medicaid. That’s the math.” Higher education also suffers under the bill, with more than $60 million in cuts to UT alone. Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, voted against the bill and said the current House budget, which eliminates TEXAS Grants for future students, will take away opportunities for incoming students. “We set ourselves up to have a generation of children who are lost and perhaps will not be as well-educated as the parents,” she said. If future TEXAS Grants are eliminated, Giddings said the state will have failed in its commitment to help students afford higher education. She said a part of the solution will have to be using at least $8 billion from the Rainy Day Fund — a fund lawmakers can use in times of financial emergency. Last week, Perry approved using $3.1 billion from the fund to help resolve the immediate deficit. The TEXAS Grants will be gone away [and] colleges and universities, in many cases, will increase tuition, putting a heavier burden on young people,” she said. Giddings said balancing this session’s budget signals a defining moment for Texas, and that if the current version passes, it could mean dark days ahead for the state. “If that bill continues on as it is and passes the House, it will be a defining moment in that we will have moved toward putting our state in a decline,” Giddings said. “We will have a lost generation of young people who will not have the educational opportunities they need.” Student lobbying group Invest In Texas held a lobbying day Tuesday to encourage legislators to prioritize higher education. The group’s spokesman Michael Morton said legislators responded positively to hearing from students. “We know this is an uphill battle, but it’s a battle we believe we can make strides in,” Morton said. “What we’re hoping is that amendments will be brought on the floor and that the number [of cuts] will be reduced.” The group will continue to urge lawmakers to consider the value of education for the state, he said. “Funding education is an investment — it’s not a waste by any means,” Morton said. “For every $1 the state invests in UT, $18 comes back to the Texas economy. We understand cuts are going to be made and that every part of the state budget is going to be affected. When those cuts are made, we want to make sure they are not disproportional for higher education.”