Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rob Orr on budget challenge: 'It's not a buffet...'

Whiskey's for drinking; water's for fighting over.

Meridian, Texas – In his fifth and final term, 58th District Representative Rob Orr (R-Burleson) sees Texas in an enviable position in national and international terms of economic recovery.
Rep. Ron Orr

The biggest thing is to handle the growth.”

Something like 1,000 people per day vote with their feet and choose the Lone Star State. They got here as quick as they could.

The biggest challenge is that the budget is not a buffet, he agreed, chiming in with District 22 State Senator Brian Birdwell, a survivor of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon in his freshman Senatorial term.

So the growth factor has a key element, and it's that old question of Texas politics. Who gets the water, and what do they use it to produce?

Orr is in a position to know. Because of his seniority, he has been placed on the two most scorching hot seats the 83rd Legislature could have produced. Redistricting, the painful process propelled by the U.S. Constitution and the decennial census, and appropriations are the twin pulse points, the dos equis marking the confluence of all the variables.

He served on both.

He wasn't alone. On the other side of the rotunda, Sen. Birdwell worked as his legislative partner.
Sen. Brian Birdwell

They both agree with the proposition that Texas can manage its growth through control of spending and an adroit handling of money resources on a cash and carry basis.

Both pointed with pride to a central selling point.

Texas ranks 48th out of 50 states in its per capita spending, a conservative fiscal posture that has led to an unswerving commitment to leave 8 billion dollars untouched in a Rainy Day fund, to cut spending to the bone, and to provide tax relief wherever possible.

They have a majority opinion backing them. The minority report, they both told the Bosque Republican Club, holds a different view. Democrats want to spend that Rainy Day fund down to zero bucks. Republicans want a threshold below which none dare tread.

Of the four things that must be accomplished to accommodate that dramatic growth rate – one that is fueled by the economic failure of less robust economies on the left, the right, and points north – the state water plan is the ultimate, the linchpin, the capstone of the quartet of issues that control the cue.

It has a $53 billion price tag, and in the middle of a drought that surpasses the crippling effects of the 1950 dry bones dust-out, it would mean forgoing all educational operations for the next biennium. Birdwell pointed that out.

When combined with Medicaid costs, education accounts for 75 percent of the state's spending.

Transportation brings up the rear in the $196.9 billion biennial shower of power - and Texas DOT officials claim perennially that they have been shorted by half in each biennial budget.

How will they do it?

Here's a clue.

If oil and gas prices don't continue to rise, we're going to have to make significant reductions,” Birdwell said, as he handed the microphone back to Orr.

He delivered the other half of the one-two punch.

We were really $27 billion short when we went into session 4 years ago.”

It's up to voters. They will be asked in November if they will tap the Rainy Day fund by $2 billion to seed a comprehensive state water plan that will do in the 21st century what Texans did in mid-20th century by building reservoirs, damming rivers, and catching every last drop before it flows down the creeks and bayous and into the briny depths of the Gulf of Mexico.

You could have heard a pin drop, but the reaction was nothing compared to the stone-faced and stoic blow back when it came time to explore the realities of Medicaid.

You think of elderly medical care as Medicare, but that's a misconception. Nursing home expenses are covered by Medicaid, and it was a 1964 law Texas opted to take advantage of in 1966 because of one reason, and one reason only.

If you don't use it, you not only lose it, but you still have to pay the taxes, anyway.
The deal is geared this way.

If you like, you pay; if you no like, you still pay.

Some other state gets your tax funds – which run at 85 cents paid back by Washingtonian bureaucrats for each dollar Texans send inside the Beltway.

The stinger: “We have no mechanism in Medicaid to limit our expenditures.”

There is no way of determining if a Medicaid recipient is in fact a citizen, or not. The eligibility requirements of the program prohibit even asking the question. Opt out if you wish, but it's a guarantee that hospitals and rest homes in California or New York - or Florida - will wind up spending Texans' tax dollars, and then Texans will have to pay an additional state tax to make up the difference.

We do not have a broken immigration progam' we have a lack of will to enforce the law.” Applause.

That's what they mean when they call it a job killer.


Both Orr and Birdwell agreed that by decreasing the number of State Board of Education achievement tests to a more manageable 7 – two of them diagnostic – the primary accomplishment is to avoid the federal courtroom, reduce the Robin Hood litigation endemic to south Texas.

Hot buttons abound.

Right to life: “A woman still has a right to choose, but we raised the medical standards.”

Gun control: A new law guarantees that a city or county can't adopt more stringent controls than those allowed by the U.S. and Texas Constitutions.

What causes hideous incidents like the Washington Navy Yard slaughter? “The ill attempt of someon with a weapon, and the attempt of someone else to keep the ordinary citizen from having one.” More applause.

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