King said that because there was no increase in revenue, the state was left in a "structural deficit" with no way to pay for existing programs.Bingo! She's exactly right. Indeed, next session's budget gap will likely be even larger than the state faced this time, when the Lege cut TDCJ's budget but did virtually nothing to reduce the number of people in prison.
"If we don't increase revenue, something will have to be catastrophically cut," she said.
The most lively exchange came between King and a Texas Department of Criminal Justice employee from the French Robertson Unit who complained about excessive cuts to the criminal justice system.
"Where would you cut?" King asked the man. "What agencies do you think have too much fluff?"
"I can't answer that," he acknowledged.
After the meeting, King said that although she appreciated the man's fervor, it typified the problem that arises when it comes to making cuts.
"Nobody can tell you where to make cuts in their department," she said. "It's other places where cuts can be made."
Earlier in the meeting, she remarked that she had heard the admonition not to "balance the budget on the backs of the schoolchildren."
"People say the exact same thing about the elderly and the exact same thing about the infrastructure," she said.
The real problem isn't that the agency's budget was cut - Grits believes it could be reduced substantially more - but that the Legislature failed to enact policy changes to make that reduction tenable. (E.g., they underfunded prison healthcare by more than $100 million while doing nothing to reduce the number of prisoners covered.) At this point, to further reduce corrections spending safely, the state must shift spending emphasis at TDCJ from prisons to community supervision - i.e, probation and parole. If the Lege would change policies to incarcerate fewer low-risk offenders, cutting TDCJ's budget would appear not only possible but wise.
I'm pleased to see King's comments because too often Texas pols, just like in Washington, pretend they can be all things to all people, claiming they can cut "waste" without reducing services while lowering taxes despite yawning budget shortfalls. But there's no more fat to cut at TDCJ: Either the Lege must enact policies that let TDCJ reduce inmate numbers and close more prisons, or else live with a ever-increasing incarceration bill paid for with higher taxes.
Perhaps Rep. King is prepared to begin believing impossible things.