Some Cuts to Texas Budget Actually Cost Money

Cutting the budget can be expensive. Something that appears to save money can, on further inspection, cost more.

Family planning, for instance.

The House amended the two-year 2012-13 state budget in debates last Friday and Sunday before sending its $164.5 billion proposal to the Senate, which is expected to pass its version later this month.

In a series of amendment forays, House conservatives raided the state’s family planning programs and sent the money to other areas like autism programs, crisis pregnancy centers and mental health services for children. Most of the conversation was couched as a this-versus-that choice between family planning and another program, often a program attractive to Democrats.

At one point, Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, argued that members should support one of the amendments to help cut financing to “the abortion industry,” conflating a program the state supports financially with one that it doesn’t. The Democrats in the House stopped registering ayes and nays and went instead with “present, not voting” to avoid the awkward results of choosing one favored program over another.

When it was done, the House had cut more than $60 million from family planning programs, prompting some of their Republican colleagues in the Senate to cry foul; it looks like the Senate will probably restore that money.

“I don’t care for Planned Parenthood,” Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, told the Houston Chronicle after the House votes. But, he added, “I don’t want to cut access to family planning. I don’t want to decrease access. One way to stop abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.” Another conservative, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, echoed that sentiment: “We need to help women who need our assistance with family planning or contraceptives to not have a baby when they can’t care for it.”

If the budget cuts remain, however, they might cost more than they save. Four years ago, lawmakers considered a so-called trigger bill that would have made abortions illegal in Texas if the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturned Roe v. Wade. It didn’t pass, but the episode showed how the money moves around.

Legislation with financial implications comes with something called a fiscal note — an official price tag that lists what a bill will cost, will save, whatever. Amendments don’t carry fiscal notes, and the financial impact of what they do sometimes sneaks up on you. Just because the author of something knows it’ll cost money doesn’t mean that author has to advertise that fact.

But the 2007 legislation was a bill, not an amendment. The sponsor was Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa and then the chairman of the Appropriations Committee — a position that carries some clout when it comes to what is and what is not included in a bill’s fiscal note. But the fiscal note on that bill was huge — around $500 million per year — and provides a framework for figuring out how much the state saves with its family planning services.

The reasoning was that without any abortions, more babies would be born in Texas, and that since more than half of the births in the state of Texas are paid for by Medicaid, the cost of those additional births would be borne almost entirely by taxpayers. It didn’t account for the health care and other social services that would follow from that. (Chisum let it stand, telling anyone who asked that he supported the trigger bill and that it was worth the cost to the state.)

Shrinking the state’s family planning services wouldn’t be as drastic, or as expensive, but it would cost money because it would result in an increase in babies paid for by Medicaid. And to the extent that this is about money, and not about policy or politics or philosophy, it wasn’t a smart series of cuts. It costs more than it saves.

Money wasn’t the point, though. The point was to hit family planning outfits — Planned Parenthood is the best known — on the theory that some of them, or their affiliates, also perform abortions and ought to be squeezed out of the state budget. But state family planning money can’t be used for abortions; in fact, the state requires that providers who do both things must separate their abortion facilities and governance from family planning, just to make sure there’s no overlap.

The co-author of that ban, added to the budget in 2005, is one of a handful of physicians in the Legislature and one of the most conservative members of the Senate: Deuell, who’s now defending the state’s spending on family planning.

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