Texas budget cuts could mean more fees

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      The first draft of the next Texas budget would cut about $13.7 billion in state spending. The draft, sent to lawmakers and leaders late Tuesday, makes up for a revenue shortfall of at least $15 billion by making cuts to almost every state agency.

      One thing the preliminary budget proposes is millions of dollars in new fees. For example, state employees and retirees who smoke would pay a $30 a month "tobacco user monthly premium surcharge." "The government taking money out of your pocket is still the government taking money out of your pocket. It doesn't make any difference whether they call it a fee or a tax or a little slice of heaven. It's really all the same because people wind up having to pay for it," said Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn.

      Other fees have the Attorney General's office charging a "annual child support service fee," a "monthly child support processing fee," and an "electronic filing of documents fee." "Fees generally regard people who use a specific service or engage in a specific activity, like a fee payed by a lobbyist, call it a tax if you want, but it goes into the budget the same way," said State Senator Kel Seliger, District 31.

      Taking funds out of the budget is something State Representative Warren Chisum, from Pampa, has co-chaired a study to do. "We looked at different places inside the budget where we could reduce state funding and still do the core function that the state was charged to do," said Chisum. "You have to go to the areas that spend money that are eligible to be cut. So you have to cut that kind of money and you have to go to schools because it gets the most revenue," said Chisum. It's called the "Blueprint for a Balanced Budget: A Starting Point." It was done by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute.

      It found a way to drop $20 billion by cutting things like non-teaching staff from public schools, cutting pay for state employees, even cutting from the Department of Criminal Justice. You can click here to see the full report. There is also an abbreviated breakdown of cuts, at the bottom of this story. It's something one Amarillo lawyer says could cripple people who need these social services. "It's one thing to say oh we're cutting programs and cutting expenses. No, you're cutting money out of the state budget only to shovel it back onto counties and let them worry about it," said Blackburn. But our lawmakers said they're doing everything they can and once they're on committee assignments they'll go through items line by line.

      "We're all of us in every part of this state are going to share the pain. We need to make sure that some areas like West Texas don't disproportionately bear the burden for the rest of the state which is kind of what these cuts look like, but I would describe the mood reserved but determined," said Seliger.

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      The Associated Press said border security has survived the initial round of budget cuts. The lead House budget writer, Rep. Jim Pitts, says the decision to spare spending on border security operations reflects a commitment to "ensure the safety of all Texans." Texas is facing a $15 billion revenue shortfall. That number could be as high as $27 billion when population and enrollment growth are considered.

      Here is the breakdown of cuts as done by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. Again, you can see the full report by clicking here.

      Blueprint for a Balanced Budget: A Starting Point

      General State Workforce Reductions $3.157 billion

      Alternatives explored or implemented in other states:

      State Agency Hiring Freeze $0.496 billion

      State Employee Reductions $0.400 billion

      End State Longevity Pay $0.323 billion

      10 Percent State Employee Pay Cut $0.865 billion

      2-Day per month State Employee Furlough $0.856 billion

      Other $0.217 billion

      Article I - General Government $0.462 billion

      Employee Retirement System Cuts $0.153 billion

      Texas Enterprise Fund $0.210 billion2

      Film and Music Marketing $0.066 billion

      Other $0.033 billion

      Article II - Health & Human Services $1.271 billion

      Deferrals $0.547 billion

      Managed Care Expansion $0.601 billion

      Other $0.122 billion

      Article III - Education $12.682 billion

      Deferrals $1.200 billion

      Non-Renewal of Stimulus Funding $2.642 billion

      Non-Teaching Reductions $3.250 billion

      Public Education Productivity Improvements $4.000 billion

      Higher Education Administration $0.266 billion

      Higher Education Grant Programs $0.386 billion

      Other $0.938 billion

      Other Cuts (Articles VI, VII, & VIII) $0.287 billion

      TOTAL 2012-13 GENERAL REVENUE CUTS $17.859 billion

      Policy Reforms $3.500 billion


      Note: Totals may not sum due to rounding.