Ellis Statement on Passage of 2012-13 Budget
Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement regarding the Texas Budget crisis and the passage of the 2012-13 budget.
"Let me begin by commending you, Chairman Ogden, for the work you have done, and let you know that my criticism of this budget is not about you. You and I have talked a lot this session, on this floor and behind the scenes, and I know just how difficult this process was for you.
"You are an honorable man who faced a severe challenge and did the best you could under the constraints you were forced to live under. I know that you are not happy about this situation and wanted to do much more for Texas.
"You have publicly stated what the problem has been: politics. I agree.
"A political decision -- not policy -- was made early on that we were not going to use our savings account to avoid draconian cuts. Everything we have done and fought over this session on this budget is based on that decision.
"It was a decision based on politics, made for the benefit of a few, and to the detriment of the vast majority of Texas.
"Let's get this out of the way: this budget cuts vital services. We can get bogged down in semantics if we want, but that is a fact.
"If your rent is $1,000 today and $2,000 next month, just paying $1,200 is not going to get it done. You're not going to get a pat on the back from your landlord and be told "good job"; you're going to get a kick in the butt and be told "get lost."
"In January, the House put forward an apocalyptic budget that completely devastated Texas schools, gutted health insurance programs, threw thousands of seniors into the streets and virtually eliminated college financial aid. We've spent months making minor changes to that framework. Now, we've gone from apocalyptic to merely horrific and we're calling that an improvement.
"It's not. We are making huge cuts that will make the lives of millions of Texans much more difficult. Telling them "it could have been worse" is not something we should be proud of.
"Members, a budget is a moral document. It reflects our values and judgment by establishing the priorities we think the state should invest in. The budget answers questions about who we are and what we stand for.
"I do not think we like the answers being provided today.
"We know the numbers by now, so I won't belabor the point:
- It cuts over $4 billion from Texas schools right now;
- It cuts around $220 million from Texas medical schools;
- It kicks the can down the road by shifting another $2 billion in payments to Texas schools into the 2014-15 budget cycle;
- It underfunds health and human services in Texas by $23 billion, 29.8 percent below what is needed to maintain current services;
- It cuts $4.8 billion in Medicaid and cuts continues the 3% nursing home reimbursement rates made last year;
- It counts more than $1 billion from unlikely federal waivers and other rosy scenarios;
- It slashes higher education by $1.5 billion, a 10 percent cut from current levels and $2 billion below what is needed to maintain than current services;
- It eliminates financial aid for over 43,000 students, including 29,000 students who will lose their TEXAS Grant.
"If you add up all the money, we are $32 billion short of meeting our current promise to Texas families.
"Let us also be very clear: We do not meet the basic needs of Texas now. We meet the basic needs of the barest minimum of Texans.
"Texas is ranked 46th in tax revenue raised per capita and 50th in tax expenditures per capita. This is not an overspending problem. We rank 38th in current expenditures per student; 44th in state & local expenditures per pupil in public schools; 37th in percentage of school funding from state revenue; 45th in SAT Scores; 49th in percent of population who have graduated from high school.
"We have the highest percentage of overall uninsured -- and of uninsured children -- in the nation; we have the fourth highest percentage of children in poverty. The highest percentage of uninsured seniors, and we are 49th in the percentage of low-income population covered by Medicaid. Per capita, we rank 50th in spending on mental health, 49th in Medicaid spending and 45th in total health care spending.
"Texas is already at the bottom in what we provide to the people of the Lone Star State; today, we have decided to do even less and make life that much more difficult for those already struggling to get by. It's a road map to a third world economy.
"With this budget, we are $32 billion short of meeting that very low standard.
"We choose not to raise money and we choose not to spend money on our people. We already have one of the highest income disparities between rich and poor of any state and, today we are going to widen that gap.
"We chose to irresponsibly cut vital services for Texas families to the bone. We don't have to cut so severely. We are sacrificing our children's educational opportunities and kick the elderly out of nursing homes, while continuing multi-million dollar corporate giveaway.
"We chose not to bring in new revenue by getting rid of tax loopholes that rip-off Texans and benefit those already making out like bandits. We chose not use our savings account for the purpose it was intended. We chose not to address the structural deficit now.
"We chose to take the easy, politically safe way and are making Texas families pay the price.
"Members, we will spend the rest of the decade try to make up for the damage done by this budget, but we will not have the tools to get the job done. It wasn't until 2009 that we made up most of the cuts from 2003, and the cuts in this budget are much deeper and more long-lasting.
"First, we have set the precedent that the Rainy Day Fund cannot be used even under the most dire fiscal circumstances. Even though this legislature has voted to use virtually all of the fund four times in the past -- under much less dire circumstances, mind you -- and the Governor once said we should use it to provide tax cuts, today we have decided that unless Armageddon is actually upon us, we cannot use it.
"That is a completely political decision and it will come back to haunt us.
"Secondly, we are balancing the budget by pretending we will get money from the federal government, or by passing the buck down to local governments, or just by kicking the can down the road with deferrals. It is dishonest, immoral and Texas families will pay the price.
"Finally, we have failed to address Texas' structural deficit or eliminate rip-off loopholes like the natural gas loophole and early filer loophole, which means we will walk in the door in 2013 having to make up a minimum of $10 billion.
"Members, we have created a perpetual deficit machine, which will force future legislatures to pay the bill. Some estimates show that the next legislature will start with a nearly $20 billion deficit; this budget falls $32 billion short of meeting our promises. We are going to be forced to make even more reckless cuts next session -- using the Rainy Day Fund to pay off past deficits -- and we will not have what we need to make up for the holes we have dug or to invest in the future.
"I wish I could do more than give a speech; I wish I could perform an intervention and make us stop this budget, but I know I can't. The decision to chart this course was made last year -- for all the wrong reasons, mind you -- that ship has sailed and is heading straight for the iceberg.
"Lord knows we don't have enough lifeboats.
"It is a little ironic that just last week this legislature lectured the federal government on deficit spending. With this budget, we are ensuring Texas carries deficits well into the future. It cuts our kids schools, cuts health care for kids, cuts seniors in nursing homes, cuts the environment and cut virtually every program important Texas families.
"We certainly shouldn't pat ourselves on the back and say 'we did the best we could', because we didn't and, frankly, we didn't even try."