Monday, January 17, 2011

Texas Budget: What Shortfall?

The too-cheap-to-pay-my-fair-share people have gotten to the top of the heap in Texas government. They have decided that a country with 300 million people can get by with a government that apparently does only three things: defends against foreign invasion, locks up criminals, and defends corporations from lawsuits.

As a result, the too-cheap people are telling lawmakers to “examine the basic functions of government.” In case you don’t know the code, I’ll translate: quit educating those peons.

Both the local and national news outlets carried stories today of states whose fiscal health is shaky. In California, lawmakers are wondering how to continue educating children, providing public transportation and basic services like vehicle registration.

Tomorrow, Texas will release its draft budget for the next two years. In Texas, where there is a $27 billion gap between what the state spent last budget cycle and what it has to spend this time, there is no wonder, no worry, and “no shortfall.” By law, Texas cannot spend more money than it receives, so there is never any month at the end of its money.

Governor Rick “shoot that coyote with a nine” Perry is positively cheerful. We’ll just have to cut services. It sounds like a tea partier’s dream come true. When the obvious question arises: What services? State Representative Jim Pitts answers: “every area from education to health care for the poor and disabled (KBTX).”

The plan that never changes is to cut funds that benefit people who cannot take care of themselves (or hire lobbyists to defend their interests). One part of the plan is to discharge 8,000 state workers. Paying people for not working is one of those uniquely Texan ways of saving money. The people most likely to lose their jobs are non-teaching education workers.Moving them from the payroll to the unemployment roll is supposed to save money.

Because education comprises 40 per cent of the state budget, it is being scrutinized carefully. The two university systems have been told to cut their budgets by 5 per cent three times in the last three years. They responded by buying out as many tenured faculty as possible, again paying people not to work.

A board of budget consultants from organizations like Americans for Prosperity, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, and the Texas Association of Business made some recommendations for lawmakers. They encouraged them to promote charter schools, which are not as well-funded as public schools, and to do away with two-thirds of non-teaching staff at public schools. They also think that the state should stop funding emerging technology and abolish its enterprise fund. Both funds create jobs, but jobs are not the problem; taxes are. Tax increases are not on the table. Governor GoodHair promised.

Apparently no one has noticed that Texas depends on employed people to buy things. The state survives almost entirely on its sales tax, and part of the present budget crunch is a direct result of a recession that prevents people from spending money.

Here are a couple of recommendations from a bystander who watched Texas public schools for many years:
First, cap the amount of compensation that a school district can pay to any employee. Principals here make twice as much as teachers. Include limitations on the amount of money that can be spent on coaching staff. No employee of a Texas school district needs to make more than $150,000 per year.  Limit the amount of money that any school district or state-supported institution of higher education can spend on football to 75 per cent of football revenues. The rest of football revenues should be returned to the budget to promote education.

If lawmakers insist that schools do without custodians, then they should have the same level of custodial services they permit to the educational system. And everyone, including lawmakers, can take out their own trash and clean up after themselves. Mama always said it never hurt anyone to clean up after themselves.

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About Me

I love my country, that is why I criticize its absurdities; I love my freedom, that is why I do it publicly.