Spirit of Wisconsin alive in Texas

“Texas has won the race to the bottom,” said Texas State Employees Union president Judy Lugo. “But Gov. Rick Perry and Republican lawmakers in the state House of Representatives want to keep racing.” Lugo was speaking to a crowd of 7,000 Texans chanting, “no cuts” at a rally on the steps of the state capitol to protest the $23 billion cuts to the state’s budget that passed out of the state House of Representative last week.

“Right now, Texas ranks last among states in the number of children with health insurance, 44th in high school graduation rates, 49th in per capita spending on Medicaid, and 50th in per capita tax expenditures,” Lugo said. “These vital services that working people rely on will get much worse if the proposed budget cuts go through.”

Last week, the state house voted to adopt HB 1, which seeks to close the state’s $23 billion budget deficits solely by cutting state services. If these cuts become law, they could do irreparable harm to working class Texans.  A recent study by the state’s Legislative Budget Board found that the proposed cuts will eliminate 335,000 jobs and reduce personal income by more than $17 billion. State Senator Kirk Watson speaking at the rally said that the proposed budget cuts are “an evolving catastrophe.”

Scott Chase, president of the South Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, which represents small businesses in this South Dallas community, told the crowd that the proposed budget cuts are “bad for business,” which is why his group was the first Chamber of Commerce in the state call on legislators to take a balanced approach to closing the budget gap rather than relying solely on cuts. Chase urged lawmakers to use all of the state’s $9 billion Rainy Day fund to help close the budget gap.

HB 1 would reduce funding for public education by $4.7 billion, resulting in mass layoffs for teachers and other education workers and increased class sizes. “We don’t want our children packed into overcrowded classrooms and we don’t want our state’s economy undermined by pink slips for our teachers and public employees,” Watson said.

HB 1 would also reduce funding for the states health and human service agencies by $10.8 billion. Medicaid will bear the brunt of these cuts. HB 1 cuts $4.7 billion from the Medicaid budget and is $13.7 billion shy of the amount requested by the state Health and Human Services Commission to fund projected growth in the Medicaid caseload.

“We’re already getting calls from hospitals telling us that nursing homes won’t take back patients that they sent to the hospitals because the nursing homes don’t think that there will be enough Medicaid to take care of their patients because of the budget cuts,” said Dalia Martinez, a TSEU member in the audience who works at the Department of Family Protective Services’ Statewide Intake Center, a hotline for reports of abuse to the elderly and children.

The rally against the budget cuts was organized by TSEU and Texas Forward, a coalition of 50 organizations that advocate for better public services. The rally drew a wide range of working-class people. Community organizations like the Texas Organizing Project, a grassroots community group of low- and moderate-income people with 10,000 members in cities all over the state, and Rio Grande Valley Interfaith, COPS of San Antonio, TMO of Houston, and Austin Interfaith, all of which are Industrial Area Foundation groups, sent large contingents.

Union members  from all over the state and from a wide variety of industries were the backbone of the rally.  About a dozen telephone locals of the Communication Workers of America sent members to support their sister public sector union, TSEU. Speaking for the CWA, Richard Kneupper, assistant to the vice-president for District 6 told the state workers and teachers in the audience that “the work you do is important; without public workers, Texas doesn’t work.”

Teamster Local 749 in Dallas filled six bus loads of people to come to rally. Unions representing steelworkers, autoworkers, machinists, sheet metal workers, bus drivers, railroad workers, and many other private sector unions sent large contingents of members to support Texas’ public workers. There were also members from AFSCME and the teachers’ unions on hand to offer their support.

Speaking for the labor movement, Becky Moeller, president of the state AFL-CIO  said, “When I have a hole in my roof, I don’t  burn off the roof to fix the hole; that’s what HB 1 does. HB 1 will throw people out of nursing homes; it will make it harder for people to get health care; it will cause people to get sick and die. It will also cause hundreds of thousands of hard-working Texans to lose their jobs, and to keep running, the machinery of Texas depends on jobs. We in the labor movement will do everything we can for as long as it take to defeat HB 1.We’re united like never before. WE ARE ONE.”

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