Texas’ top leaders have asked asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 5% to offset revenue losses from this year’s coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter on Wednesday, the state’s Big Three – Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — asked state agencies and institutions of higher education to identify 5% in budget cuts to their departments for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years. The plans are due to the Legislative Budget Board by June 15.
The three leaders said it will take months before the state can calculate the economic damage done to its coffers by COVID-19, but action must be taken now to prepare for the “economic shock.”
“Savings achieved in the current biennium are not only necessary to offset current year revenue losses,” the leaders wrote. “The savings will provide for the smoothest path toward recovery as you provide necessary services to Texans.”
The leaders said department heads should consider cuts that will not affect the state’s response to COVID-19, including: foregoing capital expenditures that can be deferred, cutting spending on travel, cutting administration spending that isn’t critical, and keeping unfilled any open positions that are not related to disease response.
Several departments that are critical to the COVID-19 response are exempt, including the Texas Department of Emergency Management, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Workforce Commission, the Department of State Health Services and the Texas Military Department.
State leaders also exempted several expenditures related to children, including funding to Child Protective Services and legal funding requirements for the Foundation School Program and school safety. Benefits and eligibility levels for Medicaid also must remain intact, as should the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the state’s foster care program, and the adoption subsidies program.
Funding for people with disabilities is also protected, as is funding for behavioral health services.
Healthcare and security operations in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will be exempt from trims, along with funding for health related institutions and community colleges.
Employer contributions to the Teacher Retirement System, Texas Employees Retirement System and social security also will not be cut. The state will also not require cuts on funding for debt services and bond authorization.
The state leaders forecast that they will ask departments for reduced budgets for the 2022-2023 biennium.
“While the exact final instructions are still being determined, every state agency and institution should prepare to submit reduced budget requests as well as strategies to achieve further savings,” they wrote. “Furthermore, when the state revenue picture becomes clearer in the coming months, it may become necessary to make additional budget adjustments.”
The announcement comes nearly a month after Bonnen, who will not return for next year’s session after being forced out for targeting fellow Republicans in this year’s elections, sent a letter to Abbott and Patrick asking for cuts to proactively tackle an expected economic downturn.
“Though state leaders will make difficult decisions in the future, please know that we will not impede your agency’s response to the coronavirus threat or take actions that will harm the public health of this state,” the three wrote on Wednesday. “As Texans recover from this pandemic, it is incumbent that state government continues to maintain mission-critical services without placing a greater burden on taxpayers. Your assistance in achieving these goals is imperative.”
Originally posted on May 20, 2020 by James Barragán for dallasnews.com.