Texas House Proposes State Services Cuts
By Ryland Barton
For Reporting Texas and KUT News
The Texas House held hearings the third week of February about proposed cuts to state services. Disabled Texans and child advocates have been pressuring legislators to tap the so-called Rainy Day Fund, to avoid hefty cuts to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
The first draft of the House budget recommends cutting Texas’ $8.3 billion contribution to the two programs by $2 billion. The proposal assumes no new taxes and that the $9 billion Rainy Day Fund won’t be tapped. Brent Connett of the Texas Conservative Coalition predicts that the Rainy Day Fund might be needed to help pay for expenses, but not for a long time.
“If Obamacare isn’t repealed, replaced or reformed,” Connett said, “estimates indicate that Texas will have to spend 27 billion more in the next 10 years as a massive amount of new people become eligible for taxpayer funded healthcare. This is why we need to preserve a significant portion of the Rainy Day Fund.”
But those who depend on state healthcare say it’s raining pretty hard now. Beth Quill is executive director of the Texas Children’s Defense Fund. She remembers eight years ago when the state’s budget hole was only $10 billion dollars.
“The emergency rooms were packed with children, adults with very serious conditions that could have been dealt with in the primary care circumstance,” Quill said.
Federal law requires hospitals to treat anyone who shows up in the emergency room, regardless of whether patients can pay for treatment. Representative Craig Eiland, a Galveston Democrat, says an increase in ER traffic will leave local governments to pick up the tab.
Said Eiland: “Hospital taxing districts would probably have to pick up any cut that we have in order to draw down federal funds to minimize those cuts.”
But he agrees with other lawmakers that cuts have to come from somewhere. Meanwhile, more hearings on Medicaid and CHIP support are scheduled next week.