Doing Less with Less: Is Texas planning to fail?

Let’s say your boss drops by to deliver your biannual performance review, and it goes like this. She says she thinks you’re doing fine work and gives her congratulations on the new baby you and your spouse are expecting. She chit-chats about rising costs, at the pump and in your other bills. And then she drops the bad news:

  • You won’t be getting a raise, not now nor at any time in the foreseeable future, though you'll be expected to work harder and put in more hours.
  • And, by the way, could you please plan for a 10% pay cut, since one might be coming?

She then heads down the hall to give the same review to each of your coworkers. In fact, every review for every person you work with over the last decade is exactly the same. Your workplace always plans for less, asks for more, and ignores reality.

Hard to imagine making progress in that sort of environment, isn’t it?

Yet this is how the state of Texas plans. Every two years, our lawmakers on a special board and the governor set a process in motion that results in that sort of plan, one that is far out of sync with what we Texans expect and want for our state. With varying levels of disregard for the growing population, for the inflated costs of energy or health care, and for special circumstances like the economic downturn, the process demands that Texas agencies budget with what they had the time before—or, oftentimes, with less.

For example:

  • Every year, there are 85,000 more kids entering Texas public schools, compared to the year before. Yet lawmakers cut $5 billion from the last budget for public education, and now the state is asking the Texas Education Agency to plan for still less next time.
  • The recession means more people have lost their jobs, and with it, their employer-sponsored health care. Instead of helping Texans out, lawmakers slashed $2 billion from the budget for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP, in 2011.

These are just two examples of many. On Friday, members of the Legislative Budget Board will hear how the Health and Human Services Commission would budget with less and less, as it is constantly asked to do. What YOU can do, as a Texan, is tune in to the hearing (or check back here: we’ll have a report soon after on the blog).  Please help spread the word about what you hear and what it would mean for Texans.

You can also tell your friends about some of the better choices Texans aren’t hearing from our state leadership. For example, we could spend the money we have on hand, like our billions higher-than-expected cash balance that our sales tax has generated and the Rainy Day Fund, which replenishes itself out of oil and gas industry profits. We could look to revenue, too. In 2011, the Center for Public Policy Priorities pointed out $30 billion in revenue options the legislature had available to it as an alternative to the cuts. Many of those options represented common-sense strategies that would barely register in the average Texan’s life (like treating small cigars the same way we treat cigarettes in the tax code, or taxing sales of management consultant-services the same way we do sales of shoes or toothpaste).

The same could not be said of the cuts lawmakers repeatedly choose instead. Texans know their schools, community hospitals, transit systems, and more are getting by with less and less, because we feel it. We see it all around us: from the 53,000 state and local jobs lost due to budget cuts, to the fact that we remain the state with the highest rate of uninsured people. It’s time we move past a failed approach and get serious about progress that would make Texas healthier and more secure.

With your help, change begins now. We have set a goal of 10,000 signatures by January 8, when the new legislative session begins, on this petition for a better budget. Please sign it today, and spread the word!

Written by: Christine Sinatra, Texans Care for Children

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