Naked City

State Cupboard Not Quite Bare

With a good deal of fanfare, on Monday the Legislative Budget Board, which manages the state's money in between sessions, responded to Gov. Rick Perry's recent request – and a May legislative report by the Health and Human Services Commission – and restored $591 million in health care funds that had been cut by the Legislature last spring. When paired with federal matching funds that bring the total to $1.5 billion, that money will restore prenatal care for some pregnant women, services to the disabled, and some community services; maintain doctor reimbursement rates; and prevent an immediate shortfall in funding for the current caseloads for the Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid. The LBB also approved $51 million in additional funds for medical schools and $24 million for higher education.

Health care advocates were quick to point out that the LBB's action did nothing to restore benefits to 147,000 children dropped from CHIP coverage over the last year, or to restore eliminated services like dental and vision care. The Campaign to Restore CHIP continued to call for restoration of the program cuts initiated last year.

In a press conference following the meeting of the LBB, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, applauded the board's action but said it remains insufficient both to state resources and public needs. "The bottom line is that Texas has over $1.3 billion in total available revenue," said Coleman, "more than enough to fund Governor Perry's proposals, completely cover the Medicaid and CHIP shortfall, and still completely restore CHIP and other vital programs. Over $470 million has been available for immediate expenditure since last year. The funds announced today represent only a small step toward assuring Texas will fund its true priorities."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick acknowledged another $207 million in available funds, but said that money is a hedge against other obligations to be addressed in the next legislative session. These include further Medicaid and CHIP shortfalls, shortages at the Texas Education Agency and the Teachers Retirement System, and millions needed to support the increasing prison population.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Legislative Budget Board, Rick Perry, Children's Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, CHIP

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