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TribBlog: Pitts Lays Out Budget [Updated]

House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, laid out the grim details of the proposed budget this morning — but said he still thinks lawmakers can be approve the budget during the regular legislative session.

Jim Pitts talks Texas with Evan Smith at TribLive on January 13, 2011.

House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, laid out the grim details of the lower chamber's proposed budget this morning, before a tense audience of lawmakers. Afterward, Democratic lawmakers fired back against a budget they said would have a devastating impact on Texas families and was "akin to asking an anorexic person to lose more weight."  

Pitts said the goal in writing the budget was to live within the available revenue and not rely on the Rainy Day Fund or new taxes. This budget proposal does that, he said. To do it, budget writers considered the essential functions of every state agency and slashed everything that wasn’t critical to the mission. Not included in the base budget, he said, is funding for growth in any area of government. “This means there is no additional funding in public education, increased enrollment in higher education or a higher caseload for Medicaid,” he said.  

Despite the difficulties ahead, Pitts suggested there’s no reason the budget can’t be completed during the regular legislative session.

Among the headlines in his explanation:

—   More than 9,000 full-time positions would be eliminated.

—   Four community colleges would be shuttered. 

—   There’s just one area where budget-writers tried to avoid any cuts at all: border security.

—   Medicaid providers would see 10-percent rate reductions.

—   Up to two state-supported living centers would be shuttered.

—   One state mental hospital would be privatized.

—   Community mental health services would be reduced by 40 percent.

—   Medicaid managed care would be expanded throughout Texas.

—   Funding for the majority of Texas Education Agency discretionary grants would be eliminated, including funding for teacher incentive awards, Pre-K and high school completion.

—   The Central Prison Unit in Sugar Land would be closed.

—   The Texas Youth Commission would be directed to close three facilities. 

The first run at the budget is $31.1 billion smaller than its predecessor — a 16.6 percent drop. The $156.4 billion proposal seeks to meet the state's budget shortfall, estimated at between $15 billion and $27 billion, without increasing taxes or tapping into the $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund. 

In health care, it cuts the rates doctors and hospitals are paid for treating Medicaid patients by 10 percent and doesn't include funding for population growth, rising costs or spiking utilization rates. The cuts represent a nearly 25 percent savings.

In public education, the cuts are so deep they fall $9.8 billion short of meeting current school finance formulas. The proposed budget does not include funding for the increased number of students or a decline in property values statewide. The cuts represent a $7 billion drop from current spending levels. Meanwhile, public safety and criminal justice spending would drop 12.7 percent, falling $1.5 billion from current levels. 

Other cost-saving and efficiency measures recommended by the Legislative Budget Board, which revealed the budget on Tuesday night, include lifting the ban on Sunday liquor sales and tying the summer sales tax holiday to the state's financial condition. 

The budget "represents the priorities the Speaker and I stated months ago," Pitts said. "This budget must live within the available revenue. It must not rely on the use of the Rainy Day Fund. It must not rely on new tax revenue. It must reflect limited government. We have accomplished all of these things in this budget." 

But House Democrats said the proposal will do incredible damage to future generations of Texans, because it slashes pre-K and early childhood education and makes higher education out of reach for many young people. 

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