|Trinity Standard - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
White backs schools, seniors during budget crisis
Trinity Standard -
TRINITY – Citing support for schools, senior citizens and public safety, State Rep. James White (R-Hillister) met with Trinity area residents Saturday for a Town Hall meeting. The major focus of the session involved the state budget crisis and how it will affect public education, but the question and answer portion of the meeting dealt with a wide range of topics. White noted that during the coming biennium, which begins Sept. 1, the state is looking at from a $16 to 25 billion deficit, depending on whose figures are used. He noted that the difference between the two numbers is based on the $10 billion in federal stimulus dollars that the state used to balance its budget during the current biennium. “We weren’t aren’t going to get that again because the federal government is now in need of some stimulus money for itself,” he noted. White noted in addition to a projected deficit for the coming two years, the state legislature also is having to address a deficit in the current year’s budget. He noted that there was a projected $4.3 billion gap between anticipated revenue and expenses from now through Aug. 31. Since that initial deficit projection was made, White said the Texas Comptroller’s Office projected the state would recover an additional $300 million in stales tax revenue, which would reduce the gap to $4 billion. To sole that, House Bill 4 proposes that $800 million in budget cuts be made immediately and HB 275 calls for $3.2 billion to be transferred from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. He noted that fund currently has more than $9.3 billion. To achieve that $800 million in savings this year, White said funding for a number of programs are being almost eliminated – such as the 9-1-1 telephone system program, the rural fire department funds and other emergency services funds. White said he feels that the legislature also should reduce some of Gov. Rick Perry’s discretionary funds, such as the Enterprise Fund, which is used to help attract out-of-state businesses. “It’s only fair that if other funds are being swept, some of the governor’s funds should also be swept. Then we may want to go back and make some other program whole, such as the rural volunteer fire department fund,” he said. He also noted that before he can support any program during the current budget crisis, he plans to ask if has to be done now or can it wait for two years. White told the audience that near his home in Tyler County, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is seeking funds to build a turtle fence along a stretch of state highway. “This can wait for two years. Right now I’m concerned about the jobs of science teachers at Fred Elementary School that is just down the road,” he said. White noted that the bill to watch during the coming weeks will be HB 1, which will be the budget for fiscal 2012-2013. He noted that from his perspective, priority should be given to retaining education, health/human services and public safety programs. He noted the health/human services programs operated by the state are aimed at taking care of the youngest and oldest Texans and include funds for nursing home benefits. In terms of school funding, White said it is time to fix the system. He noted that officials have known almost since the current system was put into place in 2005 that it was unfair and unworkable. In 2005, the legislature capped local school property tax rates at about $1 per $100 in value and promised school districts that the state would make up the difference with a business tax. White noted that the business tax produced far less income that was projected and the legislature has known from years that trouble was coming and elected to make temporary fixes. He also noted that there is still too much disparity in the amount of money schools receive. “How much each child is allotted for their education each year still depends on where they wake up. If they wake up on land sitting over natural resources like oil and gas, they receive one amount and if they wake up in the Piney Woods they receive another. “Its not fair and it needs to be changed,” he said. Trinity School Superintendent David Plymale noted during the program that under the existing fomula, Trinity students have a target revenue of $4,700 per year while students in the Franklin ISD have a target revenue of over $8,600 per year. He noted if Trinity had the same target revenue as Franklin, they would have received about $6.6 million more in state funding each year. To address this issue, White said he has filed HB 2424 seeking to equalize school funding.