Texas lawmakers brace for federal cuts

AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you are in Washington, D.C., these days, “sequester” is not a word you want to hear. It is the across-the-board budget cuts your family will feel in March, unless lawmakers can come to an agreement on how to reduce the nation's deficit.

Back home, here is how it will affect you:

Texas would lose nearly $518 million in federal public education funds. The Austin Independent School District has said it would lose $4.8 million, which would mean job losses and cuts to services for disabled children. College financial aid would take a hit. The University of Texas System says it will lose $1.4 million each year. Child care for low-income families would also suffer. The Texas Workforce Commission's Child Care Services would lose $20 million. More than 7,000 parents would lose jobs because they would not have anyone to watch their kids while they are at work. Texas would be among the top three states to lose jobs, a large section of that would come from defense cuts.

Those numbers are part of a report from a Texas House interim committee from last session concerned with the state’s response to federal sequestration. The report came out earlier this year, though the committee has since dissolved.

What key players say about coming crisis

It detailed the potential impact but left no action for state agencies to take, only a warning to "continue to monitor the federal government's actions and prepare as best they can in the event that the sequester does occur."

Staff who once worked with that interim committee said similar issues could now go to a new Texas House Select Committee on Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility. So far, the panel has fielded nothing to directly prepare for these cuts.

However, it has received a measure to call on Congress to balance the federal budget and also another that would require a majority of state legislatures' approval before Congress can increase the federal debt.

While working on the state budget, Texas House members continue watching what Washington lawmakers do - or do not do - in the next few weeks.

State Rep. James White, R-Woodville, has co-authored the "Texas Self-Sufficiency Act." The House would form a special committee to study what a decrease or even elimination of federal funding would mean for the state.

"How will that impact our state?” White asked. "Understand that a third of our budget comes from the federal government…we need to have contingencies in place."

This former high school teacher said he knows how schools will suffer. Plus, a great deal of his southeast Texas constituency is elderly, relying on federal health and social security dollars. His bill was referred to the Appropriations Committee last week.

For now though, the state is at a standstill when it comes to the sequester, waiting on what happens with its Washington delegation first. Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said a lack of agreement between the U.S. House and Senate can be blamed for the nation creeping closer to massive cuts.

"Everywhere there is some federal presence, there is a potential for impacting your family,” said, Doggett. "The House Republican speaker has refused to let the House act on this until the Senate acts, and the Senate Republican leader has indicated that the across-the-board cut will become effective."

The office of Congressman Michael McCaul, a Republican who represents a swatch of Central Texas, said he is exploring the impact cuts will have on the Department of Homeland Security. John Cornyn, Texas' senior U.S. senator, said his main concern has also been the impact on national security.

“That’s why I have supported replacing these arbitrary, across-the-board cuts with alternative, targeted spending reductions that would not diminish our national security,” Cornyn said. “Our military mission should determine the budget and not the other way around."

Congressman Lamar Smith, a Republican whose district includes parts of Austin, said the argument remains of whether lawmakers should raise taxes or cut spending.

“The federal government now borrows 40 cents on every dollar it spends,” Smith said. “No family, no community, no country can sustain that kind of excessive spending.  It is the road to bankruptcy.  More tax hikes are not the solution. Only serious spending cuts that reduce the national debt will help save our nation’s fiscal future.”
 

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Republican Rick Perry is Governor of Texas. Two Republicans represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, and Texas has 32 representatives in the U.S. House: 20 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
 
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