Naked City

Penny and Pound Foolish

After the House's aborted Robin Hood debate, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn indeed announced that she and the Legislative Budget Board had mutually concluded the draft House budgets were more than a few sandwiches short of a picnic: $2.9 billion worth, to be exact, including the deficits in both HB 7 (this year) and HB 1 (the next biennium). But she congratulated the House on adopting several recommendations (hers) to save money, and she applauded budget-writers' determination not to look for new sources of revenue (i.e., taxes).

Although she did not mention the Senate, Strayhorn's press release included not-very subtle references to signs that the Senate budget would be neither so miserly to health and human services nor so averse to accounting legerdemain to make the books balance. But those waiting for the Senate to save the day will find little comfort in the draft budget passed by the upper House Tuesday. The proposal does allocate slightly more to health and human services (drawing on the Rainy Day Fund and some bookkeeping maneuvers), but it's nothing to celebrate: 300,000 children will be dropped from Medicaid; 170,000 from children's health insurance; 200,000 elderly will be left without prescription drugs; and 17,000 elderly and disabled Texans will lose community-care services. When El Paso Democrat Eliot Shapleigh suggested tax solutions, arguing that "Texans I know don't put their grandmother out on the street," Lewisville Republican Jane Nelson tartly responded that she would personally pick up and house any Medicaid-eligible patient turned out of a nursing home. "You'd better have a big car," Shapleigh shot back.

The truth is, neither the House nor the Senate budgets come close to addressing the state's abundant needs -- socially or economically -- and what comes out of conference can by definition do little but split the difference. As to the pretzel-logic "savings" and "restorations" contemplated in both budgets, Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, commented a couple of weeks ago: "It's pretty simple. If I have $100 and I choose not to spend two dollars, that doesn't mean I now have $102." No wonder Craddick kept Gallego off Appropriations.

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