Budget’s First Draft Passes House Panel

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

their offices.

“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

currently receives.

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.”