'Alternative' Budget Battle?

Belts are tight but not for one senator's pet project

Sen. Tommy Williams
Sen. Tommy Williams

Times are tough all over – school funding is in peril and who knows what'll happen to health care for low-income children. But there is at least one budget item that seems not only safe, but also that the Senate would like to see get a sizable funding boost.

Care to guess which project that might be?

That's right, according to the Senate's draft budget, the infamous Alternatives to Abortion program would get another hefty bump in funding over the next biennium.

The program, started in 2005 as a budget rider offered by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, is meant to "encourage" women to carry their pregnancies to term. This is not done via any prenatal care, family planning services – or any kind of medical treatment at all, but rather by funding so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" – groups, generally religious in outlook, who provide "counseling" for and link pregnant women to other government-funded programs, like food stamps.

That's right: For the money we spend, we don't exactly get any unduplicated services. Of course that hasn't stopped state lawmakers from actually increasing the budget for the program, from the initial $5 million biennial allocation in 2005, to the $8 million lawmakers gave it in 2009 – a 60% budget increase. And now, according to the Senate's draft budget, the program is deserving of yet another increase, up to a proposed $4.15 million per year over the next two.

What exactly the program, or its administrator, the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, has done to earn the increase amid such overwhelming budget strife is completely unclear. The group has not done much to meet its own defined goals – or have,over the years, refined said goals to be less specific (as when they eliminated any target number of people to be helped via its toll-free referral system), which makes the outcomes seem much more rosy. And, while a lot of working folks didn't see much of a raise (if any) last year, Vincent Friedewald, TPCN's executive director got a nice $3,100 boost, bringing his salary up to $107,300 for this fiscal year.

Whether this proposed funding boost will get any traction remains to be seen. According to the House's proposed budget, not only would the program not get a boost, but it would be cut altogether, its funding zeroed out.

Read the backstory on the program and its administrator here and here.

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82nd Legislature, Alternatives to Abortion, Legislature, Legislature 2011, family planning, abortion, Tommy Williams, Texas Pregnancy Care Network, TPCN, health care, crisis pregnancy centers

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