Last week I told you about SJR 1, legislation to take $6 billion from the Rainy Day Fund and invest it water and transportation projects. I was wary of using the Rainy Day Fund solely on water and transportation and said we had to use money from the fund to restore the disastrous cuts to public education enacted in 2011. Continue Reading »
Issues: Health Issues
As you know, last session the $23 billion budget crisis was the biggest challenge to deal with. To fix that fiscal mess, those in power decided on a “cut first, ask questions later” agenda, slashing funds for Texas schools, health care and seniors. Some of us disagreed with their approach and offered alternatives to protect Texas schoolchildren and seniors. Unfortunately, we were ignored at every turn.
The budget lowlights included:
- cut over $5 billion from Texas schools;
- shifted another $2 billion in payments to Texas schools into the 2014-15 budget cycle;
- cut $4.7 billion in Medicaid and cut nursing home reimbursement rates by 3 percent;
- counted more than $1 billion from unlikely federal waivers and other rosy scenarios;
- slashed higher education $1.5 billion, a 10 percent cut from current levels and $2 billion below what was needed to maintain than current services;
- eliminated financial aid for over 43,000 students, including 29,000 students who lost their TEXAS Grant, the state’s largest financial aid program.
Those in power chose to irresponsibly cut vital services for Texas families to the bone. They chose to sacrifice our children’s educational opportunities and eliminate or reduce vital services for those in need, while continuing multi-million dollar corporate giveaways.
Some of us fought to reduce those draconian cuts. We said we faced an emergency and should use some the state’s then $10 billion Rainy Day Fund to protect families. At every turn, those in charge blocked it, saying the fund could only be tapped in the case of some massive natural disaster. We had to sock money away for an even rainier day. They set a precedent: the Rainy Day Fund is untouchable, even under the direst fiscal circumstances. We were told we had to ignore an immediate, obvious crisis just in case another, bigger crisis comes down the road.
That was then, this is now.
In just the last two weeks, those in charge have now called for spending billions from the Rainy Day Fund. Senate Joint Resolution 1 takes $6 billion from the Rainy Day Fund and spends $2.5billion for water projects and $3.5 billion for transportation projects. And Governor Perry has called for using $1.6 billion from the fund for tax cuts for businesses.
So the message is the Rainy Day Fund can be used, but only for those priorities important to those in charge of Texas government. Restore funds to our kids’ schools? Not a priority. Provide billions of dollars for water infrastructure? Please proceed! Provide health care for 1.5 million Texans? Sorry. Invest billions in roads? You betcha! Fund tens of thousands of new college scholarships? Maybe next time. Give businesses more tax breaks? But of course!
Rainy Day Fund for Our Schools Should Be Priority #1
Restoring the cuts to our children’s schools must be the top priority for any money coming from the Rainy Day Fund. As seen in the chart below, the inflation-adjusted budget levels proposed in the budget do not make up for the cuts imposed last session.
For instance, after $594 in cuts per pupil last session, this budget only adds about $20 per pupil to Houston ISD, and per student funding in is lower in FY 2014 ($9,381/$3,921) than it was in FY 2012 ($9,676/$4,132), the first year of the budget cuts.
We need to use the Rainy Day Fund to invest more in our children’s schools.
(Adjusted to 2013 dollars)
Use Rainy Day Fund to Invest in Health Care
Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, and 6.1 million Texans lack real access to health care. We have one of the chintziest Medicaid programs in the nation, with hundreds of thousands of truly needy Texans left without insurance.
We have a historic opportunity to finally do something about these dismal numbers, but, instead, some choose to stand in the doorway and say ‘no.’
For an investment of $15 billion, we could draw down as much as $100 billion in federal funds and expand health care coverage to 1.5 million low-income Texans over 10 years. The feds will cover 100 percent of the costs for expansion for the first three years, and then gradually reduce to 90 percent thereafter.
Texas has long had the highest uninsured rate in the nation, and our Medicaid program currently spends less than the national average per enrollee and also reimburses doctors, hospitals and other providers less than the national average.
This is not to diminish the need for investments in water and roads. I know that Texas faces a severe water shortage as we move deeper in the 21st century, and we have to begin to address this problem. And I have served on the Senate Transportation Committee for six years, so I fully understand the crisis we have in transportation and support investing more resources to get Texas moving again. However, considering that just two years ago we were lectured by those in charge that using any of the Rainy Day Fund for just about anything was simply impossible, to now be told that we are going to take $6 billion and not invest it in our children’s educational future is simply beyond reason.
The bottom line is if we are now allowed to use the Rainy Day Fund as intended, we need to put our kids on an equal footing with our cars and our creeks. My solution: let’s do both. Let’s truly invest in Texas’ future and save our natural resources and our most precious resources. Let’s restore the cuts to our children’s schools and fulfill our promise to our kids.
We have the money; we just need the will to do it.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Monday called on Gov. Rick Perry to support the expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, and encouraged state leaders to invest in transportation and mental health care.
Emmett, using the bully pulpit of his sixth annual State of the County speech to the Greater Houston Partnership, drew widespread applause when he said he agrees with recommendations from the Texas Hospital Association, Texas Medical Association and Legislative Budget Board on expanding the federal health care program for the poor.
“While the political debate over the Affordable Care Act continues, poor people will continue to get sick and they’ll continue to need care. Harris County taxpayers should not have to foot the bill while our federal tax dollars are going to other states,” Emmett said. “We are already paying those dollars into the federal government, and for us to say, ‘Well, we don’t want your $4 billion in exchange for $50 million that we put in,’ frankly is just nonsensical.”
Texas could draw down $100 billion in federal funds over 10 years if it puts up $15.5 billion under Medicaid expansion, analyses show. For the 2014-2015 budget cycle, the Legislative Budget Board reports Texas would need to spend $50.4 million to receive $4 billion in federal funds. Texans with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line would be eligible for Medicaid under the expansion, up from 26 percent of the poverty line now.
Mental health care
Rapidly growing Harris County has a strong balance sheet, Emmett said, praising its hardworking officials, employees and appointed volunteers. However, the speech chiefly was a call for prudent public investment in areas Emmett said would allow continued future growth. He also drew applause by calling for increased funding for mental health care, to divert those in crisis from county jails, and when he called for immigration reform.
Perry spokesman Josh Havens said the governor remains opposed to the expansion of Medicaid, which already makes up a fourth of the state budget.
“If we expand Medicaid, that percentage will drastically increase and eclipse other important priorities like education, infrastructure and public safety,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, Medicaid is unsustainable and it would be irresponsible to add more people to (an) already broken system.”
The Texas Medical Association’s views on expansion also are not clear-cut. Its president, Houston neonatologist Michael Speer, said in a statement Thursday that the program must be reformed to allow a flexible solution that limits red tape and adjusts reimbursement rates to allow more doctors to participate and more patients to be treated.
“We must look beyond the federal government’s expansion solution to design one especially for Texas and for Texans,” Speer said. “The physicians of the Texas Medical Association are confident that state leaders and lawmakers … can design a comprehensive solution that is healthy for patients and taxpayers.”
An appeal to logic
Ron Cookston, executive director of Gateway to Care, a health care education and outreach group, called Emmett’s announcement “oustanding.”
“Leaders in Fort Worth and Bexar County and other counties across Texas are beginning to step up and recognize the importance of moving forward with the expansion,” Cookston said. “That’s just huge in terms of the working poor that would have access to adequate health care resources.”
Emmett, like Perry, a Republican, said after his speech that his address was not meant as an appeal to political moderation, but to logic. No one has accused Republican governors Rick Scott of Florida, John Kasich of Ohio or Jan Brewer of Arizona of being liberals, he said, but each has decided to support Medicaid expansion.
“To me, it is conservative to spend $50 million to get $4 billion,” he said. “When things are going well, that’s when we need to spend money to make sure things keep going well in the future. If I got that across, then I accomplished my purpose.”
One of the biggest challenges Texas must address is our health care crisis and the plight of the uninsured in our state. At long last, we have a historic opportunity to make real progress, but politics and pennywise-but-pound-foolish thinking stands in the way of helping millions of Texans get access to the care they deserve. Continue Reading »
Ellis joins Texans Rallying for Health Care
Urges Texas to join other states accepting Obamacare funds to expand Medicaid
(Austin, Texas)//Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) joined the Metropolitan Organization, health care advocates and concerned Texans at a Capitol rally today urging Texas to address the uninsured crisis by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare”. Continue Reading »
Adamantly opposed to expanding Medicaid coverage under President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had seemingly squelched efforts this legislative session to insure an additional 1.1 million low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act. Continue Reading »
Quorum Report: Local Tax Collections Would be Boosted by $2.1b under Medicaid Expansion, According to New Report
February 18, 2013 9:27 AM
LOCAL TAX COLLECTIONS WOULD BE BOOSTED BY $2.1B UNDER MEDICAID EXPANSION, ACCORDING TO NEW REPORT
Former chief revenue estimator Billy Hamilton follows up on his earlier economic impact report, releases numbers showing positive impact of $23 billion in federal aid over next four years on local jurisdictions’ tax revenue. Continue Reading »
A bill to enhance pedestrian and bicycle offerings and make them a greater part of transportation planning in some cities made its return Thursday to the Texas Senate. Continue Reading »
(Austin, TX)//A recent poll shows a strong majority of Texans support expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to address Texas’ worst in the nation uninsured crisis. Continue Reading »