Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rallies draw dozens supporting cuts to state budget, thousands opposing cuts

Dueling rallies took place at the Capitol today – one held to praise the members of the Texas House for passing HB 1 and making massive cuts in funding in areas like education and healthcare, and one decrying that move and imploring lawmakers to spend the Rainy Day Fund and find new sources of revenue to fund programs important to Texas, public education chief among them.

The first gathering, held at 11 a.m. on the north steps of the Capitol was actually a press conference organized by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Empower Texas, the Liberty Institute, and the National Federation of Independent Business-Texas. Also on hand to speak were Tea Party presidents from San Antonio and Waco.

About a hundred people gathered for the press conference where the theme of government “living within its means” was struck again and again.

Arlene Wohlgemuth with the Texas Public Policy Foundation said its time for Texas to “tighten its belt” and that spending government money takes money out of the private sector. The House, she said, did the right thing in passing HB 1, though Wohlgemuth believes cuts could go even deeper. She, and every other speaker at press conference, opposes touching the Rainy Day Fund and any attempt to raise additional revenue.

“States with lower taxes and lower regulation laws outperform those with higher taxes and higher regulation,” she said.

Talmadge Heflin, director of TPPF’s Center for Fiscal Policy said House members did “yeomen’s work” in passing HB 1, though he said it isn’t a perfect bill because, in his opinion, cuts don’t go far enough.

“It’s a bill that doesn’t raise taxes and takes no money out of the Rainy Day Fund,” Heflin said. “The Senate needs to make more cuts rather than looking for more revenue.”

Several speakers hinted at the number of supporters at their press conference compared with the thousands expected to gather just an hour later on the south steps of the Capitol, saying they represented Texans who didn’t take a day off to come protest.

Those that did, however, seemed to think it was worth a vacation day or missed pay for a day to come participate in the political process. Organizers of the Save Our State rally expected to have a final count later Wednesday evening but by noon well over 2,000 supporters flooded the south steps and lawn of the Capitol, many carrying banners and signs with a “No Cuts” message.

The rally, organized largely by the Texas State Employees Union, drew parents, college students, educators and state workers from across Texas. Union chapters and community organizations from around the state sent busloads of people to the Capitol for the event.

Representatives Sylvester Turner, Joaquin Castro and Mike Villarreal also arranged for buses to bring constituents from their districts.

“We’re here to save our state,” said Judy Lugo, president of the Texas State Employees Union. “We’re all here today because we’re all in this together. Every Texan, now and for years to come, will suffer the consequences if the Texas Legislature does not change course.”

Amid changes of “No cuts” and “It’s raining, it’s pouring, Perry is snoring,” organizers also thanked lawmakers who voted against HB 1, at least 15 of whom attended the rally.

Sen. Kirk Watson spoke to the crowd, telling them the state is facing a crisis and lawmakers aren’t addressing it.

“It’s a crisis that threatens our families, our children and our future,” he said.

The president of the Texas League of Young Voters, Osadeba Oomokaro, told the crowd that growing up in Missouri City, Texas, he received a great education and his teachers told him that  with hard work and ambition he could accomplish anything. Now, the young college student said he feels state lawmakers are taking that promise away.

“You can not make the cuts and expect us to pay for it. You can not make the cuts and kill our dreams,” he said. “You can not make the cuts and expect us to be quiet.”

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