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Texas Quietly Blaming Bush For State Budget Disaster

by Molly Ivins

The Republicans are now in a painfully awkward position: They have to govern
What a strange session the Texas Legislature is having. Other states are in budget freefall, with revenues dropping so sharply services have to be cut. In Texas, we publicly admit to being in a budget crunch, but not a crisis.

We're not actually running a deficit unless you count the $700 million emergency spending bill, and I don't know why you wouldn't. What we are facing is a crisis in state government services.

Everybody at the capitol, and you can take this for nigh universal, blames George W. Bush for this in private, but almost no one does so in public, it being bad form to knock "our president."

The problem is the state, which notoriously underfunds services to begin with, did not make wise use of the fat years when money was rolling into the treasury. Gov. Bush got not one but two large tax cuts while the pressure on state services grew and grew, and he left no cushion.

Meanwhile, the new census reaffirms what we already knew, that Texas is one of the fastest growing states in the country and we now face some horrid choices.

It's so bad that even our highways, which used to be the only subject we ever got an A in, are going to pot. Harris, Dallas and Bexar counties can't get roads. Of course, neglecting infrastructure comes under the heading "Truly Dumb": It always costs more in the long run.

Meanwhile, if something isn't done for the prison guards, they're going to walk; the teachers need health insurance; and Medicaid continues to be a disgrace. One of the capitol's most cynical lobbyists, putting odds on what would get attention in the end, said, "Those Mexican kids die real quiet; you just pull a sheet over their faces and you don't hear from them any more."

The Republicans are now in a painfully awkward position: They have to govern, but Rick (Goodhair) Perry is not the son of a former president who is being touted for national office.

All hands are aware that Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander is sitting on some extra money: Texas comptrollers always do this so they won't have to certify a budget shortfall.

The problem is no one thinks she's sitting on enough to pay for the prison guards, and teachers' health insurance, and a raise for state employees, and getting Medicaid to the point where it actually functions for most of the people it's supposed to be there for.

It looks as though the ambitious plans to help the Rio Grande Valley will once again be shelved despite Perry's promise to make the poverty in that area a priority. We can't fund them. Not to mention everything else on the perennial wish list, like parks. Parks (she wrote for a change, just to get the word at the beginning of a sentence, since by custom all sentences involving state spending end with "and parks").

Oddly enough, despite the budget mess, this turns out to be a pretty good session for getting good things done -- as long as it doesn't cost money. We haven't figured out how to pay for the big-ticket items yet, but cleaning up around the edges is going well.

We owe this to former-Gov. Bush, whose presidential campaign brought unpleasant publicity to the state's less civilized habits. So we will probably stop executing the profoundly retarded -- there's a step -- and we could get a hate crimes bill and may even do something about providing competent legal counsel for poor people so they don't get the death sentence while their lawyers are asleep. We're even getting a new law so that people in prison who can prove they are innocent will have access to DNA testing.

The indigent defense bill was vetoed by Bush last session, but its author, State Sen. Rodney Ellis, is chair of Finance Committee this year, which gives him beau coup de clout.

Ellis and acting Lite Gov. Bill Ratliff pulled off a dandy funding coup for higher ed, which has been getting shorted for years, with the help of one of those constitutional amendments you can never figure out while you're voting.

This one gives state colleges access to earnings on the investments in the Permanent University Funds that had been limited to capital needs, i.e., more buildings. The money can now be spent for teaching and research at UT Arlington, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso, Tyler and Odessa.

But it wouldn't be a session without a stink, so we are all grateful to the liquor lobbyists. The PR firm for liquor wholesalers is fighting Internet sale of wine, and to that end mailed out a postcard about a cute white kid named Billy.

"Billy has always been an entrepreneur," says the title, and we see happy Billy selling lemonade and then delivering newspapers. But then Billy takes a dive toward the dark side and is shown at 14 "selling booze he bought on the Internet to his friends." And of course, his new friend is of the black persuasion, just to show you how far he's fallen.

Unfortunately, the chairman of the committee that will decide the fate of the Internet wine-sales bill is Rep. Ron Wilson of Houston, who is himself unmistakably African-American. Several citizens at the capitol noted that after Wilson announced he was affronted by the blatant racism, the liquor lobbyists all needed a drink.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor March 26, 2001 (

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