Grandmother’s Insight

My grandmother used to say “Be careful what you ask for — because you just might get it!”

I imagine that is what many people are thinking at this moment. It is pretty easy to speak in political parables and tell other people what they ought to do, but to walk the talk is a bit harder. 

It is time to stop for a moment and critically assess just what the state government does that is worth continuing and what it does that can be eliminated. That is exactly what the proposed 2012-13 budget is intended to do. It is a starting point for everyone. It calls for a time of reflection, for setting priorities, and for serious thought about future impact.       

In House Bill 1 (HB1), total proposed spending for the state in the 2012-13 biennium is $156.4 billion. This is a reduction of $31.1 billion, or a 16.6% reduction from the 2010-2011 level. The recommended state general revenue spending is $79.3 billion, an overall reduction of 10.4 percent. Furthermore, to pay for the deficit accumulated from the prior year before reductions were ordered, another $4.3 billion must be subtracted from available funds.

The proposed budget does not include growth in population or expansion of services. There are no incremental funds allocated to address an increased number of students in schools, increased numbers of enrollees in state programs such as Medicaid, or other related growth in state services and programs. Reductions vary from one section to another of the state budget, which is divided into “Articles”. Health and Human Services direct service programs related to Department of State Health Services, Department of Aging and Disability Services, Mental Health Services, and others are reduced heavily. Provider payments in the Medicaid program have a significant reduction of 10%.

The State’s higher education institutions and public education programs, already suffering from disproportionate reductions in prior months, have also been targeted for additional cuts. Formula funding for higher education and medical schools is reduced by 10 percent and special items were reduced by 25 to 40 percent. Some institutions and programs are eliminated entirely.

Senate Bill 1 (SB1) reflects parallel treatment of most agencies but cuts less deeply into higher education and special items such as hospitals.

Both bills offer up large reductions in funding for the state’s correctional managed health care programs with reductions ranging from 14% to 36% in funding categories.

One has to remember that HB1 and SB1 are both STARTING POINTS. There will be much debate and much discussion about the proposed budget reductions. The Senate and the House will attempt to establish priorities for funding through consensus. Programs with value and with strong return on investment will most likely be the ones that experience fewer final budget reductions.

For the next few months, there will be daily discourse in Austin and over the state. Public input is essential and highly desirable.

And as Grandmother used to say, “You’ll sit a long time with your mouth open before a roasted chicken will fly in.” If there’s a problem, try to fix it. We are all part of the solution.

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