If you didn't laugh, you'd cry. Every two years, the Texas Legislature is constitutionally mandated to pass a balanced budget. The House and Senate alternate which chamber's name is at the top of the bill, so this time the House gets to take the blame. The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee work on rival versions: That's a long process, so the real shape of spending won't become clear until late in the session, when the differences are finally hammered out in conference committee. Unfortunately, the finances they have to hammer out look more like lace than steel. Texas already goes into the 2012-13 biennium $4 billion in the hole, and the consensus calculation is that, to maintain current spending levels, we're looking at a $27 billion shortfall over the next two years. What's clear is that there will be massive cuts in education and Medicaid spending, plus state employee layoffs. The impact depends on how you look at it. Democrats dread that this will be the most damaging budget since the great slash-and-burn of 2003. Hard-line fiscal conservatives are lauding it as the best opportunity to gut state programs since the heyday of 2003.
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