AUSTIN — A crowd, estimated at 5,000 people from across Texas, gathered at the Capitol to participate in a “Save Our State” rally on April 6.
Participants, many of whom are state employees with jobs on the chopping block, came to protest cuts proposed in the 2012-2013 state budget approved by the House on April 3, and to ask for greater consideration as the budget-writing process continues.
The Senate must produce its own version of the budget. Two weeks ago, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, asked a subcommittee under the direction of Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, to go on a $5 billion revenue hunt.
This week Duncan and committee, who have been searching the state’s financial woods, plains and caves, are expected to produce a report with findings that might yield a solution less painful than the House’s state budget, which thins the ranks of state employees and lops off billions of dollars in education and health services.
Report eyes health care spending
State Comptroller Susan Combs on April 6 released a new report, “Health Care Cost Drivers in Texas,” examining where health care dollars go, why costs are soaring, and analyzing cost saving proposals the Legislature is considering.
Health care accounts for more than 34 percent of all Texas government spending from state, federal and other funds, Combs said in an April 6 news release. In fiscal 2009, the state spent about $30 billion on health care, a 36 percent increase from fiscal 2005, according to Combs.
Among cost saving proposals examined in the report are these: expansion of managed care in the Medicaid program, a statewide smoking ban, requiring state employees who use tobacco to pay more for health insurance than non-users, and requiring state employees and retirees to pay a greater share of the cost of their health insurance benefits.
Spotlight turns to Catholics
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and eight other Roman Catholic archbishops and bishops of Texas were honored in person in the Senate Chamber on April 6 in an honorary resolution by Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, coauthor of the resolution, took a turn at the microphone to speak in favor of the measure. “The state budget is a moral document that reflects the priorities and values of our state,” Zaffirini said.
“And my hope, by the time we pass a Senate appropriations bill, is that it will reflect the highest priorities, the highest needs, the highest values of our state, and that the bishops who are here with us today will be proud of that document. That is my prayer, and I hope it is yours.”
Zaffirini then asked Catholic members of the Senate and a large contingency of members of the Catholic Conference in the Senate Gallery to stand and be recognized.
The resolution passed unanimously. Then, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, a Roman Catholic who chairs the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, spoke up and asked for two things: that all members’ names be added to the resolution, and that the bishops “keep praying for us.”
TxDOT applies for rail funds
The Texas Department of Transportation last week submitted applications for about $43 million in federal high-speed intercity passenger rail grant funds for two Texas projects: one for preliminary engineering and environmental studies and one for safety improvements.
About $18 million of the requested funding is for preliminary engineering and environmental studies for the proposed Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston High Speed Rail Line, a corridor that would connect two of the nation’s most populated metropolitan areas. Proposed speeds would be up to 150 mph, TxDOT said. Some $2.4 billion in federal grants for such projects is available to the states.
Deadline alert: register now
Deadline is Thursday, April 14, for Texans to register to vote in May 14 elections for city, school district and other local governmental bodies. Voter registration applications are available at county elections offices, some post offices and libraries, and on the state’s www.votexas.org website.
Texas residents are eligible to vote if they are a United States citizen, at least 18 years old on Election Day, not a convicted felon (unless sentence, probation, and/or parole have been completed), and not declared mentally incapacitated by a court of law.