by ED STERLING
Friday, March 1, was the deadline for Congress and the White House to agree on how much to tax and how much to spend to avoid “sequestration” – automatic across-the-board cuts to federal programs in the current federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and beyond.
No agreement came. Now, budget reductions totaling $85 billion will come, resulting in fewer federal dollars meted out to the 50 states for education, social programs, environmental funds, civilian jobs linked to defense functions, and more.
According to Texas’ 10-member Legislative Budget Board, however, key safety-net programs are exempted from federal cuts, such as Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, National School Lunch Program, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Also, certain transportation programs are exempted, including those administered by the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration. The Airport Improvement Program is also exempted, the LBB said.
On Feb. 25, F. Scott McCown, executive director of the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, said, “Sequestration will be extremely damaging to our economy and to American families.” McCown listed possible effects in Texas resulting from sequestration, such as:
• Loss of $68 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 930 teacher and aide jobs at risk.
• Loss of $51 million in funding for about 620 teachers, aides and staff who help children with disabilities.
• Around 4,720 fewer low income students would receive aid to help them finance the costs of college and around 1,450 fewer students will get work-study jobs that help them pay for college.
• Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for about 4,800 children.
• Loss of $8.5 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste.
• Some 52,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $274.8 million in total.
Lawmakers here march on
Even with the prospect of no agreement in Washington, D.C., to avoid sequestration, the Texas Legislature pressed forward with its tasks in the weekdays leading up to March 1.
On Feb. 27, the Senate Finance Committee tentatively approved SB 7, legislation funding education and health and human services. The House on Feb. 21 passed House Bill 10, a patch that funds Medicaid until Sept. 30 coupled with partial restoration of the $5 billion hit suffered by public education in 2011. The bill quickly moved through the Senate Finance Committee, where it was substituted and passed. CSHB 10 is on the Intent Calendar, awaiting consideration by the full Senate.
SB 7, by Senate Health and Human Services Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, redesigns the Medicaid long-term care system for individuals with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as Texans 60 and over, she said.
“We cannot continue to fund the same inefficient, unsustainable Medicaid system and expect a different result, especially given the significant increases in our populations of seniors and individuals with developmental disabilities – who are living longer, healthier lives than ever before,” Nelson said, adding, “SB 7 ensures that those currently being served continue to be served – but in a more efficient, coordinated manner. It also lays the groundwork to extend services to those currently waiting for them.”
Military vote effort starts
Texas Secretary of State John Steen on Feb. 25 launched an initiative, The Boots and Ballots Tour, by the Elections Division in the Office of the Texas Secretary of State, to prepare and provide military voters with additional resources to register to vote and participate in local, state and federal elections.
As part of the effort, military and overseas voters are also being reminded that the Federal Post Card Application they can fill out and return, permanently registers them to vote and serves as a ballot request for a calendar year so they do not have to request a ballot each time an election is held.
There are two Uniform Election dates in Texas this year: May 11, 2013 and Nov. 5, 2013.
“No one does more to protect our freedom and right to vote than the men and women of our armed services,” Steen said. “So we must do everything we can to ensure they can participate in the very process they are serving and fighting to protect and defend.”
Ed Sterling works for the Texas Press Association and follows the Legislature for the association.
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