A suggestion for the Texas Budget

I understand that revenue is really down this year from previous levels and I was still really surprised to see how deep the proposed budget cuts into corrections facilities and staff. It seems to me that this is a really bad idea, but I have an alternative suggestion. If we put a moratorium on executions for this biennium, we could take the money that we would save on expensive execution drugs and shift that to facilities and staff. There are several reasons why I think this is a good idea.

  1. I see in the Austin American-Stateman this morning that the source for one of the key drugs is halting production permanently. A de facto moratorium might be unavoidable in any case.
  2. One of the corrections cuts was for inmate healthcare which could put the state in jeopardy of civil liability and actually be more expensive in the long run. Given a choice between saving people’s lives and ending people’s lives, a modern state ought to fall on the side of saving lives.
  3. A moritorium would be more palatable to the Republican majority (both in the Legislature and the general public) than an outright repeal.
  4. A moritorium would also provide extra time to determine if any of the inmates on Death Row are actually innocent of the crimes they were convicted of.
  5. A moritorium on executions would actually cause very little direct harm since most convicted of capital crimes spend several years waiting on Death Row anyway.

In summary, I feel that a temporary cut to the execution budget makes much more sense than cutting inmate health care, cutting corrections staff, or reducing the number of available beds. In a time of fiscal crisis, killing people is probably not the highest and best purpose for our tax dollars. As a matter of fact it may be true, fiscal crisis or not, but it may be easier to see and accept in such times.

I am sure there are similar trade-offs that could be made elsewhere in the budget. For instance, perhaps there is some higher goal that would be better served by $10,000/mo than the Governor’s living quarters.

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Texas Legislature and the Budget

The 82nd session of the Texas Legislature opened yesterday and the excitement is palpable. Or maybe I’m exaggerating, but there is certainly a lot of attention being paid this time around since we’re about $27 billion short of fully funding all of our existing programs.

In such a situation, I do think its helpful to look at micro-economics–for instance, a single household–for analogies. So, say you knew that your income for the year was going to be short of what you took in last year. What would you do? Yes, cutting back on spending is a prudent thing to do, and things like cable TV and dining out are definitely prime places to cut. But do you skimp on the rent? Groceries? Can you really live without a phone? Depending on what your shortfall is, closing the gap with just spending cuts might not be doable.

So what else can you do? You can try to supplement your income. The analogy to the State government is raising taxes. Obviously not a popular choice, but in my opinion, absolutely precluding the possibility ties one hand behind your back. Fortunately we have a third hand.

As a household, I can dip into my savings. Obviously, I want to be careful about this, but if I have any confidence that my income will be back to normal soon, it might be worth it to pay rent out of savings rather than moving to a cheaper apartment. Paying a mortgage out of savings will protect the equity I’ve already built in my house. Not to put to fine a point on it, this is why I had savings in the first place, to use in case of emergency.

Now, in Texas, our Governor doesn’t seem to think like I do. He is against using the Texas Rainy Day fund to fill our budget gap. Let me let him say it in his own words as quoted in the Austin American-Statesman: “‘Why spend the money during a period of time when we see a national recession having an impact on the state?’ Perry said. ‘Why in the world would we want to spend dollars just because they’re sitting there, when those are going to be ongoing expenses?'”

It’s been a day since I saw this and it still boggles my mind. He knows that a national recession is having an impact on the state, so he’s not completely clueless. But how does it make sense to question the wisdom of spending the Rainy Day fund in that situation? Is he claiming that the impact is minor? Or does he not understand the concept of the Rainy Day Fund? It seems to me that the whole point of having the Rainy Day Fund is to make sure that your ongoing expenses keep going on. I haven’t yet heard anyone suggest that we should create any new programs or start any new spending. Everyone knows that’s not going to fly. So I really don’t know what to make of the Governor’s questions.

One possibility is that the Governor is living in denial. That would be consistent with his campaign rhetoric that the estimates of a $12-24 billion shortfall were overblown or fanciful. He’s been proven wrong on that count, so now he wants to dismiss our ongoing budget as wishful thinking. Again, in his own words: “I’ll let somebody else talk about that, because that’s not reality. I don’t get to deal with a wish,”

I’m sorry, but if a national recession, the consequences of which are still echoing, isn’t a rainy day, I don’t know what is. And if the Governor wants to lead the charge on spending cuts, I have a suggestion for the first cut. Let Mr. Perry pay his own rent on the luxury mansion he is currently occupying. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to let the state pay for five bedrooms and swimming pool, or whatever it is that Perry is living in while the Governors’ Mansion is being repaired. That would be real leadership, indicating that no one is too big to share the sacrifice. Plus, I believe the man is rich enough that it wouldn’t be that much of a sacrifice. It’s a win-win.