Turner: Budget Misses the Mark

Final Version of HB 1 leaves too many Texans behind

AUSTIN — Today, State Representative Chris Turner delivered the following remarks outlining his opposition to the conference committee report to HB 1, the two-year state budget:

When this budget was voted on in the House, it was a budget I was proud to vote for, I think a lot of us were proud to vote for it. Now that this budget has come back from the conference committee and is before us for a final vote, the picture I see is much, much different than what we had here two months ago.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some positive aspects of this conference committee report on the budget. On Higher Education, I’m very grateful that this budget funds our first Tuition Revenue Bonds in nearly a decade, and that the budget provides a needed formula funding increase for our universities and colleges. I know that that would not have happened were it not for our House negotiators, led by Chairman Otto.

There are other things to like in this budget — there are things we can all like. On the major issues that will shape our state in the years ahead, this budget misses the mark.

I was proud to support the House version of this budget, because it provided up to $3 billion more for our public schools. The budget that comes back to us today, comes back with only $1.5 billion more for our schools. As a result, more than one-third of our schools will remain funded at a lower level than they were in 2011.

On healthcare, the picture is not much better. Again, I was proud to support a House-version of the budget that increased Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care physicians — it is critical that we did so. In 2000, 67 percent of physicians in Texas accepted new Medicaid clients, today it’s just 34 percent.

The decreasing number of physicians accepting Medicaid is often given as justification for not expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would insure one million Texans, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and strengthen our health care system.

We can’t expand Medicaid, because Medicaid is broken, we’re told. Well, if it is broken, it is because we don’t reimburse our doctors at a sustainable rate. Even Alabama has a higher reimbursement rate than Texas. If Medicaid is broken, it’s because we broke it — and this budget does not fix it.

So what are our priorities, if it’s not investing in our schoolchildren and health care system?

It’s apparently a priority to throw $800 million at a nebulous border security plan, even though border apprehensions, a leading indicator of border security, are at the lowest level since the 1970s.

It’s apparently a priority to cut off life-saving breast and cervical cancer screenings for up to ten percent of our at-need population, simply because those folks have relied on Planned Parenthood for these vital services.

We’ve put $4 billion into tax cuts, some of which I support and some of which I did not support. But I do not see any justifiable reason to leave $6 billion in general revenue under the pay-as-you-go limit on the table and another $11 billion in the Rainy Day Fund at the end of the biennium, while we underfund our schools and compromise our health care system.

Our state budget should be the mechanism, the machinery, we use to build a bridge to the future that every Texan, young, old, urban, rural, man, and woman, is able to cross and realize a brighter future for themselves and their families when they get to the other side.

This budget, in my view, does not build that bridge, at least does not build one that is strong enough or wide enough. It leaves too many Texans behind, looking across that chasm.

For those reasons, I will be voting no on this budget.