Can it get any more depressing than hearing the word "triage" applied to foster children? That's what the Senate Finance Committee is hearing this morning about the effects of impending budget cuts on children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse. Yes, the same class of children who, only a few years ago, were spending the night in state offices because of lack of placement options. State workers will have only enough money to "triage" kids who might be in danger of dying, not just miserably neglected and abused.
John Whitmire hit his breaking point at about 10:30 a.m.:
"We're talking about sexually abused, sodomized, starving children," Whitmire exploded. Then he challenged Commissioner Tom Suehs: "When will you tell us, 'If we don't get it (more money), we can't keep the shop open. If we don't get this, I can't really run a foster program that keeps children safe.' When will you come and tell us that you can't do it.? I'm ready for someone to say we just can't do it -- it's unacceptable. Break it down in human figures."
Lawmakers are struggling to know the real impact of cuts, demanding more data explaining how many real people would be no longer served by government services. But the size of the cuts has convinced Scott McCown that it is time to move the conversation beyond the "no new taxes" mantra dominating the debate.
With former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, McCown has made a pitch to the state's business leaders that the state shortfall needs "a balanced approach" that starts with cuts, but includes Rainy Day Fund monies and new revenue. Together, they penned a letter outlining the dramatic impact of the cuts on public education, higher education, healthcare and child protective services -- and how that would reverberate through the Texas economy.
Five hundred chamber of commerce executives and CEOs received the letter. They were invited to participate in a conference call to learn more about the state's financial status.
McCown and Hobby divide the blame between the recession and the state's poorly-performing 2006 state margins tax. They end with an appeal for business leadership:
If Texas business leaders speak up today in favor of a balanced approach, Texas can cope with the current recession and begin dealing with our structural deficit. But if legislators hear only from those who want a rigid cuts-only approach, then legislators will weaken public education, reduce access to higher education, and leave children, the elderly, and people with disabilities in our communities unprotected. We urge you to speak up for Texas.
Hobby is well-acquainted with the importance of business leadership in getting the Legislature and a Republican governor to approve new taxes. In the eighties, Gov. William P. Clements was dead set against approving new taxes for public schools until prominent Dallas business leaders traveled to Austin and told him face to face that the state's schools needed the money.
The entire letter can be read here.
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