This Texas Duck is No Decoy
by
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
September 4, 2003

You may remember me saying in a previous column that while our Governor and our legislative leadership were crowing about "no new taxes" they were planning to push off much of their historic responsibilities in order to rid themselves of an approximate $11 billion shortfall.  I could not resist having a little fun and said that if it (shifting the state's tax responsibility to local units of government) looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it was a duck.  If it looks like a tax and takes like a tax, it is a tax, no matter how you do it or what you call it!

In a previous column I quoted Jeff Turner, CEO of the $550 million a year University Health System as follows: "In human terms, our analysis indicates that the uninsured will grow by approximately 67,000 people and will force uninsured patients into already overcrowded emergency rooms or to do without needed care altogether."  Some of this will undoubtedly come from the lack of CHIP Program designed to assist children with health care.

True to form, the tax-duck has come home in the form of $24 million in cuts to your County Hospital (University Health System) for 2004 and another $34.4 million in cuts to the hospital in the two-year Texas budget.  Additionally, your State Government and its leadership has heaved $7.5 million of mental health services it historically underwrote onto the backs of Bexar County.  These services are not just hitting the poor, they're hitting you and me too, directly or indirectly. 

The poor are not just the guys at the corner holding the sign up "Will work for food."  They are the people that work part-time jobs, that work for our small businesses that cannot afford to provide these benefits for their workers and they are the people we pass on the streets, expressways and in the grocery stores.  All criminal justice experience has shown that the harder life is on the poor and those struggling to be in some way, shape or form, middle class, the more likely they are to end up in the system. 

I also said in a previous "duck" column:  "So, when the hooping and the hollering about how fiscally conservative or financially sound the Legislature has been with your money, think of them also as having mandated the local units of government to undertake the dodged responsibility of doing what the State has always previously done.  The County, the City, local school districts and other special districts will not be able to elude serious responsibilities so easily!  Again, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.  What the Legislature is planning to pass looks like a tax, quacks like a tax…"

An ongoing sore spot I also previously covered relative to the burden our State places on us was our jail population:  "For a very long time, the State has housed its prisoners who are on parole but who violate conditions of parole, in our County Jail.  Not only do they stay free of charge, they are tough inmates to house since they have already done "hard time" in the State prison system.  Additionally, the Texas Jail Standards Commission penalizes us for having too many prisoners even though its free-of-charge prisoners contribute to the bloated population!"

As we speak we are addressing the ever-challenging jail population with over a million dollars to hire another forty or so detention guards.  We are also keeping our commitment to continue the previously promised raises for the guards through the Sheriff's Step Plan, which has also done a great deal to address Law Enforcement salaries.  All of these deputies are worth this and much more. 

Finally and during the last two weeks, we have discussed the RMA's, the Regional Mobility Authorities being promoted by the State as a local County mechanism to assisting the State in shouldering its historic share of building roads and highways in our county.  Although cautious not to include existing or already-paid-for roads, we know there are about $4 billion in identified Bexar County road needs. 

We dare not tempt the Texas Department of Transportation to whack us for not cooperating.  Still, we must not let the State of Texas dump so much added responsibility on us.  After all, Bexar County has primarily the property tax, then court costs and an array of lesser producing revenue mechanisms.  We have no sales tax or pass-through monies from CPS. 

Hey, much more of this "State assistance from Austin" and we might give some thought to rolling out that "Come and Take It" flag from Gonzales!  Seems to me that the very thing that gave rise to "Remember the Alamo" was the fight that erupted based upon the failure of the combined province of Coahuila and Texas to honor the local folks here in Texas.  Friends, we can and must do much better! 

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