Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The State of the State Of Texas - 2013

Yesterday, Governor Rick Perry gave his 7th State of the State address outlining his priorities for the state of Texas. Left out of the list of Republican priorities that Perry outlined in his 45-minute address are the legislative priorities being pressed by Democrats in the Texas Senate and House.

Progress Texas recently published a brief on the major issues concerning Texans and the 83rd Texas Legislature - clicking on the links take you straight to that issue:
  1. Budget and Taxes: Investing in Our Future
  2. Expanding Medicaid: 231,000 Jobs by 2016
  3. The Battle to Save Public Schools
  4. Family Planning Cuts Run Deep
  5. Water for a Rainy Day
  6. LGBT and the Fight for Equality
  7. The Voting Rights Act Still Matters

Gov. Rick Perry gives his 7th State of the State address.

Texas Democratic legislators respond to Gov. Perry's 7th State of the State address.
Democratic priorities include plans to fix the state's business tax, end what they called accounting gimmicks to make the state's books appear balanced, making improvements to infrastructure and to restore funding to the Women's Health Program.

One House Democrat said the governor painted an unrealistic picture of the state. "Not sure what parallel universe Gov. Perry is living in, but it's not the same one as the people in my district," said Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso. "We need to restore money to education and health care."

Two years ago, Perry declared there would be "no sacred cows" immune to deep budget cuts as the state struggled with a $27 billion budget deficit amid an economy still feeling the effects of The Great Recession. Lawmakers responded by passing deep cuts across-the-board, including slashing $5.4 billion from public schools and billions more from state Health and Human Services programs. (Gov. Rick Perry's State of the State Speech - 2011)

The economic picture has since brightened substantially, with sales tax receipts up, unemployment down and the oil and gas industry humming. Yet early draft 2013-15 budgets proposed by Republicans in the Texas House and Senate were so austere that they would leave about $5.5 billion in projected state revenue unspent and do nothing to restore the 2011 cuts to education and Medicare.

On June 28, 2011 Gov. Perry signed a $172 billion budget passed by the super Republican majority Texas House and Senate. The budget signed by Gov. Perry cuts $15 billion from the level of spending last authorized in the 2009-11 state budget. The largest individual cut was to public education, but other agencies saw their budgets reduced, too, including public universities and community colleges (with the two largest universities in the state losing $100 million in funding) and state health and welfare programs, which saw Medicaid and food stamp funds slashed by up to $2 billion.

Even after cutting billions of dollars from state education the 2011-13 budget deferred $2.3 billion in state payments to K-12 public school districts to fiscal 2014. Schools need that deferred money to write checks to teachers and librarians and janitors and principals to avoid yet further cuts.

Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation and critics say state legislators shorted school districts by an additional $2 billion in the 2011-13 budget by ignoring the estimated influx of more than 170,000 new students who will crowd into the classrooms over the next two years. Texas law has mandated a 22 students per teach cap for kindergarten through fourth-grade classes since 1984, but districts can apply for exemptions for financial reasons.

Texas Education Agency data for the 2011-12 school year shows that the number of elementary classes exceeding the 22-1 student-teacher ratio has soared to 8,479 from 2,238 during the previous school year. Budget cuts have affected all of the state’s 1,200-plus school districts and charters, but the 102 fastest-growing districts, which have absorbed 92 percent of the growth in student population since 2007, have been hit the hardest by increasing class sizes. Many of those fastest-growing districts are in north central Texas. About 46 percent of these fast-growth districts have campuses with waivers

Perry repeated yesterday that he is opposed implementing federal health care programs, saying "Texas will not drive millions more into an unsustainable system, and that has not changed one iota."

Texas has more than 6.3 million uninsured; 1 in 4 Texans lack health insurance, the most of any state. The impact of continued state funding cuts for Medicaid and Medicare is putting a squeeze on Texas seniors' health care benefits. With Texas already one of the lowest states in seniors' Medicaid funding, state lawmakers need to ask themselves how they can justify jeopardizing quality care, good local jobs, and the rehabilitative care that increasing numbers of their elderly constituents need.
Texas Observer: If Texas doesn’t expand Medicaid, it will reject more than $100 billion in federal money the first decade, according to the state’s own figures. To get that sizable federal reimbursement, the state would have to spend about $16 billion over 10 years. The governor’s refusal to take the federal government’s billions puts him in an awkward position opposite some of the state’s most powerful economic players: hospital chains, local governments and chambers of commerce. Given that political pressure, Perry might strike a deal with the Obama administration, or the Texas Legislature could push for a Medicaid expansion.

Beyond the economics and politics, lives are at stake. Lack of insurance will certainly mean more deaths. How many more? Approximately 9,000 a year, according to Dr. Howard Brody, director of the Institute for Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Brody calculated that figure by extrapolating from a recent Harvard University study published in The New England Journal of Medicine that found that states that expanded Medicaid saw a 6.1 percent reduction in the death rate among adults below 65 who qualified for the program. In a recent op-ed in the Galveston Daily News Brody wrote, “This means that we can predict, with reasonable confidence, if we fail to expand Medicaid . . . 9,000 Texans will die each year for the next several years as a result.”

Too often the political debate around Medicaid expansion is about dollars and cents, Brody told me recently. “It’s presented as if it weren’t about life and death,” he said. Brody teaches ethics to medical students at UTMB, so for him, the issue of Medicaid expansion, when you cut through the rhetoric and endless policy discussions, is a deeply moral question: Should Texas allow people to die simply because they can’t afford health insurance?

When state lawmakers passed the two-year budget in 2011-13 they cut $73 million from family planning service providers, such as Planned Parenthood. As a result, Texas also cut federal health care funding that paid tens of millions of dollars for women’s reproductive health services — none of which were abortion-related. The latest state Health and Human Services Commission projections now being studied by Texas lawmakers indicate that during the 2014-15 biennium, lower income women will deliver an estimated 23,760 more babies than they would have, as a result of their reduced access to family planning service providers and the contraceptive birth control prescriptions they provided. The additional cost to taxpayers is expected to be as much as $273 million — $103 million to $108 million to the state’s general revenue budget alone and the bulk of it is the cost of caring for those infants under Medicaid.

In response to Gov. Perry's 7th State of the State address the Texas Democratic Party released the following statement:
Today was Governor Perry’s seventh State of the State address, and he used it as a time to continue his endless run for President, rather than focusing on the needs of Texans.

Governor Perry has been in office since 2000 and Texas still has more uninsured individuals than any other state in the nation.

Gov. Perry bragged today about his refusal to expand Medicaid, a decision that can cost Texas $6 billion in the next four years, cause us to turn down $400 billion over the next ten years, and prevents as many as 1.5 million Texans from gaining health insurance.

Perry also spoke about his work on education. That “leadership” meant slashing over five billion from public education.

That devastating action meant 11,487 teachers were fired, along with an estimated 15,000 staffers, just as student enrollment grew by 87,000. Perry refuses to restore this funding even though the state has the ability to do so.

And yet, today Gov. Perry stood up and told our fine state that the nation is looking to him for leadership.

Statement from TDP Chairman Hinojosa regarding Perry’s State of the State:

We must do better for this great state of ours. The best way to create jobs and secure a strong economy for Texas is to invest in our future. We need to educate our children and increase the success of our public schools. We need to make sure that Texans have health insurance. We must allow for the Medicaid expansion that could save the lives of 5,700 adults and 2,900 children every year. These are not issues to play politics with. These are issues that demand leadership. Gov. Perry made clear, once again, that he lacks the leadership ability required to move Texas Forward.

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