AUSTIN – About 1,000 people rallied here to stop state budget cuts to public education and the state’s low-income health insurance program for children (CHIP) at the State Capitol the day before Republican Gov. Rick Perry gave his state of the state speech.

The rally was organized by the Interfaith Alliance of Texas, a network of clergy-led grassroots community organizations that fights for better public education, affordable health care and enhanced public services for working families.

It was one of the first of a growing number of actions being taken to fight back against the severe budget cuts and accompanying reductions in public services that are looming over the state since it was announced that the state faces a revenue shortfall of nearly $10 billion.

Demonstrators demanded that Texas revamp its tax structure to raise more revenue and provide tax relief to working families who pay a disproportionate amount of their income in state taxes. Texas spends less on government services per capita than any other state and has one of the most regressive tax structures in the nation.

Governor Perry must have been paying attention because he announced in his speech the next day that he would recommend an extra $500 million for public education and would not cut CHIP, but he also proposed a nine percent across-the-board cut to most state agency budgets to make up the shortfall. Perry said that the cuts could be made without reducing services, but most state agencies are already underfunded.

For example, Texas ranks 47th among all states in the amount of money that it spends on administering welfare. The only way for most agencies to make such extreme cuts will be to lay off staff and cut services.

Of course, the business lobby was ecstatic after Perry’s speech. Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business, which represents the state’s largest employers although it purports to represent small businesses, could hardly contain himself. “Perry is acting on the will of the people, the pleas of small-business owners and the demands of the state by balancing a budget … without raising taxes,” Hammond crowed to the Austin American Statesman.

Despite the optimism of the business lobby and their extremist right-wing allies who control state government, grassroots opposition to the cuts is starting to surface. In addition to Texas Interfaith, other groups will be coming to Austin to fight for more and better public services. The Texas Federation of Teachers and the Texas State Teachers Association, the two biggest teacher organizations in the state, are mounting a grassroots campaign against Perry’s proposal to siphon public money off to private schools through vouchers. They are also fighting Perry’s attempts to increase class sizes, divert money intended to fund technology allotments for public schools, and for a substantial pay raise.

State employees are also organizing a fight back. The Texas State Employees Union, CWA Local 6186, has scheduled six Mini-Lobby Days in which TSEU members from different agencies and universities will visit legislators to tell them how cuts will harm their constituents and explain why state employees need a pay raise.

On April 9, TSEU will hold a state employee Lobby Day. Thousands of state workers from all over the state will flood Austin to march, rally and talk directly to legislators. “On April 9, the Capitol will be wall-to-wall with state employees,” said Will Rogers, a TSEU state executive board member. “And we’ll be speaking with one, loud voice saying ‘no to budget cuts,’ ‘no to privatization,’ and ‘give us the pay raise that we earned and deserve.’“
Other advocates for state services will be visiting Austin throughout the legislative session, which lasts until May 30.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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