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February 14, 2011 (512) 463-0300

PANELS TO SCRUTINIZE MEDICAID, EDUCATION SPENDING

(AUSTIN) — After two weeks of testimony, presentations and debate, the Senate Finance committee wrapped up initial hearings on the budgets for public education and health and human services. As the committee moves on to the rest of the preliminary budget, two Senate subcommittees will spend the next three weeks going over Medicaid and public education to find all possible savings. Healthcare and education make up more than eighty percent of state appropriations; balancing the budget will require cuts in these areas.

Sen. Royce West, Sen. Florence Shapiro
Plano Senator Florence Shapiro and Dallas Senator Royce West are two of the members of the subcommittee tasked by Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden with finding savings in the state education budget.

The Subcommittee on Public Education Funding will strive to find ways to make education both cheaper and more accountable. Subcommittee Chair Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano sees the current budget crisis as an opportunity to transform education in Texas. "It's an opportunity to finally make public education transparent," she said. Shapiro's committee will work with teachers, administrators and other education stakeholders to identify where cuts can be made and other ways to make education more efficient.

The task is the same for the Subcommittee on Medicaid, led by Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson: to cut costs while preserving essential services. Because so much of state spending on healthcare draws matching funds from Washington, Senators must be careful to balance cuts with lost federal revenue. Members must also evaluate prevention programs, which have a short term cost but long term savings. One example is currently optional kidney dialysis programs; while dialysis costs a lot of money upfront, cancelling these programs would increase healthcare costs as these patients may later turn to acute-care hospitals for treatment. Nelson said she knows this work will be difficult, but utterly necessary, not just to balance this biennial budget, but also future budgets. "Growth in Medicaid is simply unsustainable," she said. "Medicaid costs are projected to double every ten years. We've got to roll up our sleeves and find every savings we can."

Both committees are slated to meet each morning from nine to eleven a.m. Monday through Friday, for the next three weeks. Finance will continue to meet in the afternoon to consider the rest of the state budget.

The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, February 15 at 11 a.m.


Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.

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