The pace is fast and frantic here at the Capitol.
The Senate has worked feverishly on the Governor’s “emergency” legislation agenda and so far has passed legislation on voter identification, the requirement of sonograms prior to abortions, sanctuary cities, and other items.
The Senate has begun hearings related to SB 1 (the Senate base budget). Health and Human Services, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the state’s university systems have all had a chance to make their appeals related to proposed budget reductions.
Some strategists feel that the proposed reductions are the only way to satisfy the constitutional requirement of a balanced budget. Others feel that the called-for reductions may place the state further behind in public education, higher education and programs designed to diminish poverty.
UTMB has presented on the anticipated impact of Senate Bill 1 on the future of the University of Texas Medical Branch. President David Callender thanked the senators for their support during the 81st session. He respectfully asked them to please honor the promises that they made during the last session to help UTMB recover from Hurricane Ike by funding the Tuition Revenue Bond (TRB). The TRB will require $13 million for debt service for the building of the proposed Jennie Sealy Replacement Hospital after this session. Dr. Callender also discussed the adverse impact of reductions to UTMB’s base funding. He explained how the reductions could result in a cutback of clinical services at UTMB hospitals, including the closing of the Level 1 Trauma Center. Also pointed out was the harmful impact to graduate medical education programs and other selected services throughout the institution. The impact to education and research programs would be just as detrimental, with UTMB having to place its future growth and expansion of these programs on indefinite hold.
The president asked for fair treatment of UTMB comparable with other state medical schools and consideration for UTMB to meet its mission-specific programs related to education, research and health care. All are at risk with the proposed large budget reductions.
Next Dr. Callender testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education chaired by Representative Hochberg. Chairman Hochberg, along with members Diane Patrick, Myra Crownover, Mike Villarreal and others, were joined by guest members Craig Eiland and Larry Taylor as Dr. Callender discussed the negative impacts of the budget reductions in HB1 (the House base budget). HB1 proposes reductions of up to 25% in the UTMB hospital budget and eliminates a host of other programs that provide direct service to the poor and underserved, resident and student education programs, and key state health initiatives such as the Stark Diabetes education programs.
During the brief break in the proceedings, Dr. Callender found himself in visits with three senators and several other legislative staff members, and with Lt. Governor David Dewhurst discussing topics ranging from reconstruction of the campus to diversity and student test scores.
The days start at 7 a.m. and most often are busy past 9 or 10 at night. But there is much work to be done before mid-March. There is that looming March 11 deadline for filing legislative bills. The legislative bills must accomplish the allocation of the state’s precious dollars as well as providing the means for the state agencies, educational bodies and professionals to change their business practices as called for by the new budget. Without a doubt these are adverse times but in adversity there lies opportunity.