Ef­fect on state could be sweep­ing

Texas

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - Con­tin­ued from A Con­tact Tim Ea­ton at 445-3631.

ures, $226 bil­lion fed­eral dol­lars were spent in Texas. So­cial Se­cu­rity made up $43 bil­lion of the spend­ing; Medi­care ac­counted for $16 bil­lion, and de­fense spend­ing to­taled $59 bil­lion, DeLuna Cas­tro said.

As far as the state bud­get goes, au­to­matic fed­eral spend­ing cuts — which would be trig­gered Jan. 2 by the se­ques­tra­tion out­lined in the Bud­get Con­trol Act of 2011 — could reach $1.1 bil­lion and af­fect 13 state agen­cies, ac­cord­ing to the state’s Leg­isla­tive Bud­get Board.

“It’s not go­ing to seem like the end of the world,” DeLuna Cas­tro said. She added that the $1.1 bil­lion would be cut out of $66 bil­lion that the state agen­cies re­quested for 2014 and 2015.

That’s not to say the cuts would be pain­less, DeLuna Cas­tro said. For ex­am­ple, the Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency, which would take the brunt of the fis­cal blow, is still deal­ing with a dras­tic re­duc­tion in fund­ing from the last leg­isla­tive ses­sion, and it can hardly af­ford more re­duc­tions, DeLuna Cas­tro said.

“The dol­lars we’re talk­ing about sup­port nutri­tion and health care and ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren with spe­cial needs,” she said, adding that hous­ing, work­force train­ing, em­ploy­ment and sub­stance abuse preven­tion pro­grams are also in jeop­ardy. “Un­for­tu­nately, th­ese are things that saw state money cut or never got it in the first place.”

For the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, the pos­si­ble cuts would trans­late into the loss of ser­vices and jobs. The Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency could see a re­duc­tion of more than $517.6 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Leg­isla­tive Bud­get Board.

One pos­si­ble ca­su­alty could be Ti­tle 1 grants es­tab­lished to help stu­dents, es­pe­cially those from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds, meet aca­demic stan­dards. Those grants could see a se­quester cut in fis­cal 2013 of more than $100 mil­lion in Texas. The loss of that fed­eral money would mean that 1,386 ed­u­ca­tion jobs would go away; more than 250,000 low-in­come stu­dents wouldn’t be served and 422 fewer schools would re­ceive fed­eral grant money, ac­cord­ing to a report by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chair­man of the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee on La­bor, Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­lated Agen­cies.

Fed­eral spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion grants, which would pay for al­most 1,000 jobs to sup­port spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents, also could be cut by more than $80 mil­lion, Harkin’s report said. And teacher im­prove­ment grants worth $18.5 mil­lion could be elim­i­nated, threat­en­ing the pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment of nearly 20,000 teach­ers.

Health ser­vices could suf­fer, too, if lead­ers in Washington can­not fig­ure out how to nav­i­gate a way around the fis­cal cliff, a term coined by Fed­eral Re­serve Chair­man Ben Ber­nanke to de­scribe mas­sive tax hikes and spend­ing cuts that will oc­cur if Congress fails to act. The Texas De­part­ment of State Health Ser­vices could see a re­duc­tion of $181.3 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Leg­isla­tive Bud­get Board.

With se­ques­tra­tion, $10.5 mil­lion wouldn’t be avail­able to pay for sub­stance abuse treat­ment for al­most 4,900 peo­ple, the report said. Also, cuts to a fed­eral child care and devel­op­ment block grant could do away with child care sub­si­dies for 6,500 Texas chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to Harkin’s report.

Among the other state agen­cies in jeop­ardy of los­ing fed­eral fund­ing in­clude the Gen­eral Land Of­fice, which could see a re­duc­tion of $104.7 mil­lion; the Texas Work­force Com­mis­sion, which could lose $99.2 mil­lion; and the De­part­ment of As­sis­tive and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive Ser­vices, which faces go­ing with­out $69 mil­lion in fed­eral funds, the Leg­isla­tive Bud­get Board found.

State Rep. Mike Vil­lar­real, a Demo­crat from San An­to­nio and vice chair­man of the In­terim Com­mit­tee on Texas Re­sponse to Fed­eral Se­ques­tra­tion, said he is wor­ried about how fed­eral cuts as­so­ci­ated with the fis­cal cliff would af­fect vul­ner­a­ble Tex­ans.

“I’m con­cerned about the fam­i­lies and chil­dren who will be im­pacted,” he said.

State law­mak­ers and bud­get writ­ers are not only con­cerned with re­duced fed­eral money to pay for ser­vices, but tim­ing could be an is­sue, too.

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, said the worst-case sce­nario for Texas bud­get writ­ers will be if the process is dragged out in Washington. She noted that the state con­sti­tu­tion won’t al­low the Leg­is­la­ture to ad­journ its 2013 ses­sion with­out a bud­get.

DeLuna Cas­tro said Dukes, who has long had a seat on the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions com­mit­tee, and other leg­is­la­tors need a fi­nal num­ber from Congress by April to avoid an ex­tended ses­sion.

“The tim­ing is­sue is al­ways a prob­lem,” DeLuna Cas­tro said. “That is a big ques­tion mark.”

State Rep. Linda Harper Brown, a Repub­li­can from Irv­ing and chair of the House’s se­ques­tra­tion com­mit­tee, couldn’t be reached for com­ment, but she will lead a hear­ing Dec. 11 on the pos­si­ble ef­fects of fall­ing off the fis­cal cliff.

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