AUSTIN, Texas — The coronavirus is taking its toll on the Texas economy.
Earlier this week, Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced the state is facing a $4.6 billion budget shortfall. State agencies have already been directed to cut five percent from their current budgets to try to cushion the blow. State health officials recently proposed slashing $133 million in health services. The cuts would impact programs used by millions of vulnerable Texans including women's health, child abuse protection and the state's system for enrolling children and families in food stamps and Medicaid.
"The truth of it is, we don't want to hurt our vulnerable populations, particularly our kids in Texas,” Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Lake Jackson, said on Capital Tonight. “But we are going to have to tighten our belts in state government across the board."
Speaker Bonnen says the proposed cuts aren't a done deal and they'll work with the health agency to refine them.
But he also warned these could be just the beginning. Lawmakers will come back in January and have to add what’s needed for leftover Medicaid and other expenses. Then they’ll start crafting the next two-year budget. Due to the recession cause by the coronavirus, they expect to have less money to work with and will work to temper spending, make cuts or do some accounting tricks.
But they could also consider new sources of income. A state income tax always gets brought up, but it's almost certain to go nowhere.
Another idea that always comes back – legalizing marijuana and taxing it.
"The state budget is so large, there's no singular solution to a budget challenge. So legalization of marijuana should be considered next session by those who want to bring it forward, but it probably doesn't produce a solution to the budget challenge we'll be facing,” Bonnen said. “It certainly could be a help. It could augment the shortfall. But I don't believe it's anywhere near a singular solution."
Speaker Bonnen won't be back to vote on it next session. But he did say he does not support it and doesn't think it will ultimately have the votes to pass.