Texans on all sides of the budget equation rallied at the Capitol Wednesday for vastly different priorities.
The first gathering on the north steps of the Pink Dome featured speakers representing conservative causes. They praised the lean version of HB 1, the general appropriations budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, that is on its way to the Senate.
"It's not a perfect bill, but it's a bill that stays within our revenue," said Talmadge Heflin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Center for Fiscal Policy, the main organizer of the rally. "What (the Senate now) needs to do is focus on cuts rather than look for more revenue."
He was joined by representatives from Americans for Prosperity-Texas, Americans for Tax Reform, Empower Texans, the Heartland Institute, the Liberty Institute, the National Federation for Independendent Business-Texas, and Tea Party leaders from Waco and San Antonio. Each speaker warned the Senate to not tap the state's Rainy Day Fund.
The crowd included about 50 supporters who held up signs with slogans like "Teach fiscal responsibility; support the budget cuts!"
"They don't need more revenue. They need to get government back in a Constitution-sized box," JoAnn Fleming, chair of the Tyler-based Tea Party Caucus Advisory Committee, told the crowd to loud applause. "You cut off the fluff and get down to business."
The "Texans for a Conservative Budget" rally had barely finished when thousands of public employees descended past them toward the south steps, chanting "No cuts!"
Organized by Texas Forward, the "Save our State" rally attracted citizens from around the state representing the Texas State Employees Union, Communication Workers of America, Texas Organizing Project and religious groups. Their concerns ranged from overtaxing the poor to the current version of the state budget, which proposes closing nursing homes and cutting education spending by $8 billion.
"Our elderly will be on the streets. There will be no care for them. They are trying to disrupt our teachers and take away our schools' books," said Pam Neal, a protester and office manager for the United Transportation Union. "It's an attempt to dumb us down so that we will become subservient and low class citizens."
As Neal spoke to the Tribune, speakers behind her demanded that Texas legislators use a reasoned approach to balancing the state budget, which would include spending the Rainy Day Fund and finding new revenue.
"The revenue is there. It's our tax system that's screwed up and they've put it on the backs of the working people while the corporations are socking money away left and right — and that's wrong," Neal said.
As the protesters walked past the conservative rally, members of that group could be heard saying, "Why are we paying our state employees to be here today? Why aren't they at work?"
Reuben Leslie, a member of the Texas Public Employees Union, said he came out to rally against the proposed cuts on his own time and his own dime. As he looked around, he said many of the protesters were less fortunate.
"They can barely afford to be here to advocate for the poor, the hungry and the disabled in this state who are going to be hurt," Leslie said.