FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 28, 2011
(AUSTIN) — "I voted against the appropriations bill (House Bill 1) because it does not reflect the values of Texas families and because it will have a severe, lasting and negative impact on our beloved state.
"Texas is at a crossroads: Access to quality education and higher education is critical to maintaining our state's economic competitiveness. To meet the demands of employers and educate our rapidly growing population, we should be strengthening our commitment to higher education, especially as every dollar invested in higher education returns up to $18 to the Texas economy.
"The state budget formalized today, however, shortchanges higher education by more than $960 million and public education by $4 billion.
"At a time when we should be expanding access to college, this budget slashes financial aid programs drastically, especially for low-income students. As a result, 28,700 fewer low-income students will receive TEXAS Grants (a 27 percent cut), and the B-on-Time Loan program, which promotes timely graduation and student success, will assist 30 percent fewer students. Even the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee was quoted by Dallas Morning News as saying, the "budget is going to make it harder for poor kids to go to college."
"In 2005 the legislature and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board began an ambitious and important initiative called Closing the Gaps by 2015, which aims to close the gaps in student participation, student success, excellence and research. Instead of moving Texas closer to meeting those four goals, this budget makes it nearly impossible to achieve them. Instead of closing the gaps, it broadens the gaps and puts college out of reach for thousands of low-income Texas families.
"For the first time in memory, the budget initially was passed by both chambers of the legislature on party-line votes after most Democrats were shut out of the process.
"Some Republicans ignored our concerns and accused us of "frightening Texans" unnecessarily, but this budget truly is frightening.
"Unbelievably, it cuts health and human services programs that save the state money in the long run. Among the programs cut are the UT Community Outreach Program, which plays a critical role in reducing the high incidence of diabetes in South Texas, and prevention and early intervention services that keep at-risk children safe from abuse and out of the foster-care system.
"Also slashed are waiver programs that give older Texans and persons with disabilities the opportunity to live at home with their families or receive community-based care. Without these waiver programs, many will be forced to live away from their loved ones in more expensive institutional settings.
"The future fiscal implications of this budget are staggering. The American journalist George Horace Lorimer wrote, 'Putting off an easy thing makes it hard, and putting off a hard one makes it impossible.' Texans aren't afraid to tackle tough problems, but Republican budget-writers missed no opportunity to delay or defer critical decisions, thereby failing to solve the state's fiscal problems and creating new ones for future generations.
"Budget-writers used accounting gimmicks and tricks such as deferring payments to 'solve' the budget gap. What's more, because the budget fails to fund Medicaid caseload growth, Texas will have to address a fiscal hole that is at least $4.8 billion larger in 2013. Instead of fixing the structural deficit they created in 2006, Republicans merely swept it under the rug.
"Some may congratulate themselves for achieving a balanced budget, but this budget tips the scales heavily toward severe cuts and accounting tricks. That's not balanced. A balanced approach would require a thoughtful exercise in cutting wherever possible, while protecting safety net programs and preserving vital investments in Texas' future.
"Some may believe that this budget reflects the values of the majority of the people in Texas. I strongly disagree. Countless Texans from Senate District 21 and across our state support our public school teachers and believe in helping the very young, the very old and persons with disabilities. They believe in investing in Texas' future by strengthening public and higher education. This budget does not reflect those values.
"When the initial version of the budget was proposed in January, I hoped we would improve it by adding sufficient funding to protect the highest priorities and greatest needs of Texas families. Sadly, that did not happen. The budget approved today is fiscally irresponsible and morally wrong. Accordingly, I voted against it."
SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI, D-LAREDO, has served nine terms on the Senate Finance Committee and has served on the Legislative Budget Board since 2004. She champions funding for education and health and human services, especially for the very young, the very old and persons with disabilities.