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Tea party spells out budget cuts plan

By Glenn Evans
March 22, 2011 at 11 p.m.


Freeze state hiring, suspend park renovations and end corporate welfare. Those are just some of the cuts Texas must enact before an adviser to tea party lawmakers would touch an emergency reserve fund.

Tea Party Caucus Advisory Committee member JoAnn Fleming also included combining six state agencies and ending what she called "legal plunder" while outlining a 14-point plan to Gregg County Republicans.

"As long as we have all these things being funded, you cannot convince me that it is prudent or responsible to take money out of the people's fund, the rainy day fund," Fleming told the local GOP's monthly meeting last week.

The unpaid executive director of Grassroots America - We the People, Fleming is among non-elected advisers to the new Tea Party Caucus which includes conservative freshman legislator Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview. Veteran Rep. Leo Berman, a Republican from Fleming's hometown of Tyler, also is a charter member of the caucus.

The estimated $9.4 billion rainy day fund already has been tapped for more than $3 billion to buy the state to the end of this fiscal year Sept. 30.

Fleming's organization is digging into the cuts made before the fund was tapped to evaluate whether to approve or condemn using the reserves. Her remarks last week focused on the estimated $27 billion revenue shortfall attached to the 2012-13 budget.

Fleming listed six state agencies that oversee pieces of the state's environmental makeup. Those were the Environmental Quality, Railroad and Public Utility commissions, the General Land Office and the departments of Agriculture and Parks and Wildlife.

"Why do we need all these agencies managing natural resources?" she asked.

She criticized a growing state practice of asking local communities to contribute hefty amounts to move highway projects to the front of the line.

That's legal plunder, she said, defining the phrase as redirecting local tax dollars to state obligations already funded by taxes.

"(The Texas Department of Transportation) is just out of control," she said, blaming Smith County's incentive payment for Tyler's Inner Loop 49 as redirecting money meant for county road upkeep.

Work in parks, historic properties and on hike/bike trails should be suspended during the budget crunch, she said.

"The state fund to renovate county courthouses need to end," she added, calling that a local responsibility.

Fleming didn't spare Gov. Rick Perry, who has closely guarded his own business incentive budget while asking schools to spend their reserve funds.

She said the governor publicly rejected federal education money on a Thursday, saying it had too many strings attached, but the following Monday criticized U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas "in another part of the state" for blocking $834 million in federal education dollars.

That fund to pay companies to locate in Texas is less necessary in a state considered pro-business, she added.

"Texas is competitive now," she said. "When we're talking about cutting education, health care and other things, you open yourself up to the accusation of corporate welfare. That's taking money away from other services. We need to slide that across the table."

In addition to freezing state agency staff levels, Fleming said all but the most minimally paid state employees should face pay cuts and furlough. No one should be paid more than the governor, she said, "including school superintendents."

Elected officials should see their own pay slashed, she added.

She praised Wisconsin Republicans who recently clobbered collective bargaining rights for unionized state employees.

She conversely criticized Texas legislators.

"If this bunch had been in Wisconsin, they would have caved already," she said. "We need that spirit. We need that brand of independence in Austin."

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Grassroots Texas-We The People's 14-point state budget recommendations:

1. Focusing on the basic constitutional duties of state government, making those the top budget priorities;

2. Employing zero-based budgeting for every agency, department, and program;

3. Asserting constitutional and moral duty to first protect and preserve the interests of the citizens and legal residents of Texas by requiring all public service providers to verify and report the citizenship/legal residency of those they serve to the State and to the People of Texas, thereby ensuring appropriate budget allocations can be made for legal Texas residents, versus those from other States (both foreign and domestic);

4. Eliminating overlapping, duplicated agencies, departments, and programs (example, the natural resource agencies: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Rail Road Commission, Public Utility Commission, General Land Office, Agriculture Commission, Parks & Wildlife);

5. Injecting competition into the delivery of services for improved service quality and lower costs (outsourcing, improved centralized procurement for volume purchasing discounts, and efficient contract management);

6. Determining feasibility of purchase deferrals for all unspent appropriations in current budget and for new budget requests for capital assets (vehicles, equipment, technology, new facilities/upgrades/remodels);

7. Instituting an immediate hiring freeze and review of all state government positions, all personnel policies, and all benefits; review solvency of benefit funding for state employees; end longevity pay for state employees; increase contribution levels for state employees toward their own pension and insurance benefits;

8. Cutting pay for state employees, including statewide officials. Top officials should lead by cutting their pay first. (No public employee should make more than the Governor, including school superintendents.) Care should be taken not to reduce lowest paid state workers to the point of making them eligible for social services, thereby driving up state costs.

9. Ending the practice of diverting funds from the originally-intended purpose to other uses (for example, the state motor fuels tax of which 47% is diverted to non-transportation fund use);

10. Mandating review of all agencies, departments, and programs to match funding with originally-intended mission and to determine whether or not the agency/department/program is producing measurable results; although this is the purpose of the Sunset Commission, the Sunset Commission needs to be revamped with more private citizen representation on the review board;

11. Reviewing state debt for savings through debt consolidation, lower interest rates;

12. Suspending funding of parks, bike and walking trails, renovations of historical properties.

13. Reviewing and curtailing in many cases state economic incentives and subsidies (our low taxes, limited regulations, right to work laws, and civil justice system provide plenty of incentives for companies to come to Texas, when compared to other states);

14. Reasserting State Sovereignty under the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution. Too much state spending is driven by accepting unconstitutional federal funding with strings, regulation, and mandates. All federal funds that come with added strings and regulation should be rejected.

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