Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Friday that spending on public education can be maintained and even increased in the next two-year budget and the Senate, over which he presides, won't agree to cut Medicaid reimbursement rates for nursing homes.
The Republican lieutenant governor's vision is a far cry from the severe cuts to public education and Medicaid headed for a vote in the House next week. Lawmakers have been looking for ways to address a projected shortfall of as much as $27 billion.
Dewhurst recently announced the formation of a special committee aimed at finding "non-tax" revenue to help plug the budget hole. He said staggering cuts can be avoided by selling state land, reducing certain expenses and raising other revenue but not increasing taxes.
"We can still fund education, the Foundation School Program . . . at the same appropriated level we're funding right this second, actually higher," he said at a legislative conference in New Braunfels.
Maintaining current spending levels on the program that pays for basic school operations still would not account for about 160,000 new students expected to enroll in Texas schools over the next two years.
Dewhurst also said prisoners "will stay locked up," and he predicted that universities would face "minimal" spending reductions.
"I've known the lieutenant governor to be able to work magic before and for the sake of Texas families, he's my number one magician right now," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, leader of the Senate Democrats.
The House budget calls for the state to spend $77.6 billion of its own money over the two years. Even after an agreement to make a limited withdrawal from Texas' Rainy Day Fund, the House plan still would underfund public schools by almost $8 billion and Medicaid by $4 billion.
A state study released Thursday showed the state would lose 335,000 jobs if the current budget proposal in the House became law. Data from the non-partisan Legislative Budget Board said the budget would eliminate 188,787 state jobs by the end of 2013 and private companies would eliminate 146,457 jobs under the House plan.
Experts also say a proposed cut to Medicaid reimbursement rates for nursing homes could leave as many as 45,000 senior citizens homeless.
Republican senators said this week they were committed to using any available money to adequately fund Texas schools.
Republican Rep. Jim Pitts, the chief House budget writer, has warned that lawmakers in that chamber have little appetite for increasing proposed spending levels.
The differing proposals set up stark battle lines as the two chambers work to consolidate both drafts into one budget in the final days of the legislative session.