AUSTIN--The House Appropriations Committee passed the first
draft of the state's 2004-05 bare-bones budget Monday amid howls
from critics that some of the spending cuts go too deep and
acknowledgements from supporters that the document will change
before it becomes law.
The version that emerged from the Republican-dominated
appropriations panel on a 19-2 vote and is heading for the full
House increases overall spending slightly. But it calls for sharp
reductions for higher education programs, criminal justice and
public safety initiatives and the funds lawmakers receive to run
"I expect there will be a good deal of debate and discussion on
the House floor, and there should be," said state Rep. Lois
Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the panel's chairwoman.
The $117.7 billion budget contains 5.5 percent less state
revenue than does the 2002-03 spending plan. But it would draw
about 6 percent more from the federal government than the state
Republicans also pointed out that spending for human services
programs will rise more than 5 percent over the next two years.
The panel recommended reducing spending for public education by
$65.8 million, or 0.2 percent, and cutting funds for higher
education by $773.5 million, a 4.7 percent drop.
Criminal justice and public safety programs would lose $609.4
million, a 7.2 percent cutback.
The appropriation to run the Legislature would be cut by $30.6
million, a 10 percent reduction. Programs for health and human
services would see a $2.1 billion increase, although some
initiatives within the immense agency would be trimmed and some
public-assistance rolls would be reduced.
The committee's action came after weeks of testimony from
recipients of social service programs who said that they depend on
state-paid health programs for their survival.
Even with the proposed spending increases, the panel's budget
would still slash the rolls of the state-paid Children's Health
Insurance Program for low-income working families and from the
Medicaid program for more needy Texans.
Two committee Democrats, Joe Deshotel of Port Arthur and Richard
Raymond of Laredo, voted against the budget plan.
Budget writers are attempting close a $9.9 billion gap between
what the state anticipated receiving from various revenue sources
and the cost of keeping services at about the same level for
State leaders said early in the legislative session that a tax
increase was unacceptable.
State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, said the plan falls short.
"The areas I'm focusing on are education and health and human
services," said Eiland, who was absent for the committee's vote.
"If those two areas are not substantially increased, I won't be
able to support it on the floor."
Peggy Venable, who directs the conservative Texas Citizens for a
Sound Economy, said the budget is a much-needed step toward
reducing the size of state government.
"We realize that for every state dollar spent, there is a
constituency," Venable said. "But it is time to go back and make
sure that we only fund those programs that the state should be
Scott McCown, who heads the liberal Center for Public Policy
Priorities, took a much different view.
"It's a very, very cruel budget," he said of the proposed cuts
to social services. "And what is so frustrating is that we could
have been able to afford to mitigate so many of these cuts with a
tax on cigarettes. Depending on the level of tax, we could raise
$1.5 billion, and that could have restored some of the programs
they want to cut."