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Counties Tell State: Locals Bear Burden of Budget Cuts

May 16, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - State lawmakers have received a scolding from the Travis County Commissioners Court. It came in the form of a unanimous resolution opposing legislative efforts to balance the budget primarily by means of cuts to programs and services. Several other counties are considering similar resolutions at the urging of the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU).

TSEU outreach coordinator Mimi Garcia thinks politicians, in responding to an anti-spending, anti-tax mood, are misleading the public by suggesting additional revenues are unnecessary. With a cuts-only approach, Garcia says, the funding burden could simply shift to local governments, which have to maintain such essential services as health care, education, and nursing homes.

"Those needs don't go away. And so we might see things like local property taxes and school taxes rise because counties and school districts aren't going to be able to afford it."

The Travis County resolution says Texas should maximize federal resources, as well as tap the state's $6 billion Economic Stabilization Fund, a savings account commonly called the "rainy day fund." Garcia says that's an unfortunate nickname because it implies the account should only be used for natural emergencies, rather than structural budget problems.

The resolution demands that lawmakers overhaul the state's revenue system, saying a third of the budget shortfall is the result of a 2006 decision to lower property taxes in exchange for an under-performing "business margins tax." Garcia rejects the notion that the recession is the main reason Texas is now in a financial hole.

"The hole is really a result of political decisions that were made in the Legislature that have put us in worse shape now than we could have been if we had had a reasonable revenue stream."

Recession or not, she says, lawmakers will have to dig the state out of the same hole every two years until they finally address the structural reasons behind the deficit.

The Travis County resolution can be seen at TSEU's web site, www.cwa-tseu.org

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX