The Austin Chronicle

A Billion Down

By Richard Whittaker, May 18, 2010, 4:55pm, Newsdesk

What's more depressing? That, after bailing the current budget out with federal stimulus dollars, the Republican leadership of the Texas State Legislature will get props for today's announcement of $1.2 billion in budget cuts, or that they rejected almost exactly that amount in additional federal cash?

Back in January. Gov. Rick Perry requested that state agencies find 5% in cuts in their general revenue expenditure: Not for the next budget, but the one he just signed last July. Now the list of cuts has been announced, and the demand has been reduced from "apocalyptic" to "downright harrowing."

In total, Perry's initial request for proposal produced plans for reductions $1.7 billion in approved spending from all state agencies over the current biennium. Today's announcement via the Legislative Budget Board cuts that to $1.25 billion, which is still no small chunk of change. Such cuts probably hurt basic service provision in Texas more than they would in many other states because (as is so well and widely reported) such services have been cut to the bone as is.

House Legislative Caucus Leader Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, was quick to point out that if the state had taken steps to receive up to $700 million in Race to the Top dollars and $500 million in unemployment insurance cash, then things might not be so bleak. The caveat that he doesn't mention is that these would be dedicated dollars for specific projects, but, still, $1.2 billion is nothing to sneeze at, even in the best of times. Dunnam said, "Accepting the Federal unemployment insurance and education dollars would only have affected Perry's false image as a Washington outsider (never mind the $16 billion in Federal Stimulus funds Perry and the Republican legislature used to balance the current state budget)."

What may be most interesting is the list of exemptions to these new cuts. In total the governor's office let agencies keep $483 million of their proffered sacrifices. Many agencies just had their target nudged down from the full 5%, but some get a bigger nudge than others. For example, the Comptroller of Public Accounts goes from having to find $33 million to looking for total savings of, er, zero. The biggest adjustments were with the Department of Criminal Justice ($239 million reduction, now with a target of $55 million), State Health Services ($38 million reduction, new target $38 million), and the Higher Education Coordinating Board ($50 million, new target $23 million.)

Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.