Thousands of protesters chanted "They say, 'Cut back.' We say, 'Fight back,'" this afternoon as they marched to the Capitol to rally against massive proposed budget cuts.
About 5,000 people from across Texas urged lawmakers to take what they called a balanced approach to fixing the estimated $15 billion to $27 billion budget shortfall for the next biennium. This weekend, the state House passed its version of the $164.5 billion budget bill, which included significant cuts to public education and health and human services spending while not drawing money from the state's Rainy Day Fund or creating new revenue.
The protesters argued the budget proposal favors a few at the expense of many. And they called on lawmakers to use the Rainy Day Fund, to close loopholes that give corporations tax breaks and to find long-term revenue-generating solutions.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said Texans' priorities are much different than those of legislators.
"We must not pack our kids into overcrowded classrooms," Watson said. "We must not dismantle our parents' and our grandparents' nursing homes. We must not undermine our economy."
Tempering the cuts now is important for the state's future, said Judy Lugo, president of the Texas State Employees Union. Texas, she said, is ranked 44th in public education spending, 49th in Medicaid services and 50th in tax expenditures.
"For years, we've been at a race to the bottom," she said. "And guess what? We've won."
But Republicans who control the Legislature have vowed not to raise taxes. And Gov. Rick Perry has been adamant that lawmakers not dip into the Rainy Day Fund to prop up the next budget. Lawmakers say when Texas voters overwhelmingly elected conservative legislators, that sent a clear message that they want lawmakers to reduce the size and spending of government.