AUSTIN – In Texas and at least 36 other states facing big budget deficits, activists are working to unite their forces and fight back before the state legislature enacts vicious cuts against working families. Organizers have been delayed because they could not anticipate the exact form of the assault. In Texas, the anti-worker proposals are now becoming clear.

The right wing extremists who have taken control of state government look on the looming $10 billion state budget shortfall as an opportunity. They want to cut government services under the guise of making government more efficient and avoiding tax increases. The reality is that the budget cuts that they are proposing will curtail services for the state’s most vulnerable citizens, increase taxes that working people pay, and do great harm to the state’s economy.

The way rightwingers tell the story, the Texas budget is bloated with fat. Texas Comptroller Carole Strayhorn told reporters in January that state legislators in 2001 had a “party,” spent too much, and now it was time to fix their spendthrift ways.

But many services already had long waiting lists because there wasn’t enough money. For example, there are 1,400 seriously ill children and adults without access to health insurance who are on a waiting list for health care services provided by the state. These are children with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, heart conditions and other serious ailments and adults with cystic fibrosis.

There are similar waiting lists for other programs. About 52,000 families struggling to get off welfare are eligible for day care services but are on a waiting list. Another 60,000 elderly Texans in poor health and in need of community care services are also on a waiting list.

The budget cuts that the right wing is proposing create longer waiting lists for services. The Center for Public Policy Priorities estimates that if the right wing’s cuts are enacted:

* 62,000 fewer elderly Texans with chronic health problems will receive community care services.

* 42,000 elderly disabled Texans will lose nursing home care.

* 15,000 elderly, frail Texans will lose adult day care.

* 13,000 pregnant women will not receive prenatal care through Medicaid.

* 11,000 mentally retarded Texans will receive no residential care.

* 40,000 people in need of outpatient mental health services will not get them.

It is not only the frail and vulnerable who will suffer. Texas working families will likely see their local taxes increase. There is talk at the Capitol of reducing state aid to school districts by as much as $2.7 billion. If this cut passes, school districts will have two choices: raise local property taxes, raising the taxes or rent that workers pay for their home, or increase the number of overcrowded classrooms.

The right wing also proposes steep cuts in Medicaid by reducing eligibility. If uninsured Texans are forced off Medicaid, they will seek health care treatment in local public hospitals. Counties will have little choice but to increase property taxes to pay for the increased demand for health care services.

The cuts will also have a serious impact on the state’s economy, which has seen substantial job losses over the last two years. Workers in the Rio Grande Valley on the Mexican border face double digit unemployment and Central Texas, the heart of the state’s cratering high tech industry, has seen its unemployment rise from under 3 percent to nearly 6 percent.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

PDF version version ‘Anti-worker assaults take form’

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