When budget cuts start to hit home

Senate Bill 1581, the legislative aircraft carrier on which school finance cuts and a bunch of other bad legislation were being readied for landing, never sailed on the House floor. Instead, it was torpedoed last night and sank, thanks to a parliamentary technicality raised by a Democratic opponent. In truth, though, many Republican legislators also were relieved because they weren’t looking forward to voting on the school finance amendments.

The same Republican lawmakers already had voted (proudly, some claimed) to collectively slash $8 billion from the public schools, a figure reduced to $4 billion by House and Senate budget conferees. But when it came to cutting the $4 billion on a districtbydistrict basis, which is what the school finance amendments would have done, the GOPers suddenly felt faint.

It is one thing to brag about reducing the size of government, as the new, tea partyinfluenced legislators arrived in Austin doing, and quite another to read the computer printouts showing the damage (in actual dollars) that the budget cuts will inflict on their local school districts, their local taxpayers and, we all can hope, their own reelection prospects.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Republican from Killeen, and the House sponsor of SB1581, said he understood the reluctance of voting late in the session on the basis of districtbydistrict computer printouts with varying degrees of bad news for the folks back home.

“It’s a large amount of money. We cannot make mistakes at this point without dire consequences,” he said.

Jimmie Don’s statement, of course, ignored the fact that the overriding, major mistake already had been made. The governor and the Republican legislative leadership, including himself, had insisted on deep budget cuts to the public schools.

Regardless of how the school finance dilemma is resolved, the leaders and their tea party allies already have assured a bad outcome. Bad enough that the budgetcutters suddenly were looking for something stronger than tea to bolster their courage, if you want to call it that.

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