AUSTIN -- A new spending blueprint crafted by House budget writers Wednesday calls for $22.9 billion in cuts and the elimination of more than 8,000 state jobs but seeks to soften education and healthcare reductions proposed in an earlier plan.
Tarrant County officials were still trying to gauge the local impact of the proposed budget for 2012-13, but several said their initial assessment is that it shows little change from the bare-bones spending plan submitted to lawmakers in early January.
"All the major cuts are still in place, so if they were going to affect us before, they're still going to affect us," said Mark Mendez, government affairs director for Tarrant County. "We're still concerned."
Approved on an 18-7 party-line vote by the House Appropriations Committee, the proposed budget now heads to the House floor, where a showdown debate is expected April 1.
The proposed budget would spend $164.5 billion in state and federal funds to run the state government over the next two years, a 12.3 percent reduction from the 2010-11 biennium.
State funding for education would be cut 9.4 percent; the reduction in the original draft was 13.1 percent. Funding for health and human services would be reduced 17.5 percent, compared with the draft version's cut of 24.6 percent.
Although the reductions were slightly less severe than in the original spending plan -- which called for a 16 percent overall cut -- the new figures do little to cheer entities such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes.
Tarrant County hospital executives told members of the county's legislative delegation during a visit to Austin on Tuesday that they are facing service cuts and possible layoffs because of millions of dollars in proposed reductions in Medicaid reimbursements.
"We're not in a panic mode, but we are concerned, and that's why we're spending time in Austin telling our story," said Rick Merrill, CEO of Cook Children's Medical Center.
The appropriations committee has also approved a measure to draw $3.2 billion from the state's rainy-day fund to help close a $4 billion deficit for the current biennium. That proposal and a supplemental budget for the current biennium are expected to go the House floor for a vote next week before members consider the 2012-13 budget.
Reps. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, and Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, who are on the committee, said the commitment to spend the money from the rainy-day fund will free up a total of $4 billion that can be used to ease cuts proposed in healthcare and education in 2012-13.
"The reductions are still more severe than the dollars that we have restored, but we're working very hard to make strides in that direction," Patrick said. "What we're trying to achieve is a balance between programs that are very valuable and the budget shortfall."
Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said he thinks recent budgets approved by the Legislature were more generous.
"Those budgets didn't do enough to cover all of our needs, so I can't imagine voting for a budget that would cut so much and leave so many teachers and nurses out to dry," Veasey said.
The original draft called for nearly $10 billion in education cuts, forcing many school districts to consider layoffs and service reductions.
"Anything we can do to reduce that dollar amount is going to be a big help, but it doesn't get us to where we need to be," said Hank Johnson, chief financial officer for the Fort Worth school district.
Under the original budget, the district was facing $60 million in cuts, representing 10 percent of its operating budget, Johnson said. School officials may be forced to cut more than 500 positions this school year and about 300 more the next, Johnson said.
Four community colleges, including one in Ranger, that were targeted for elimination in the original draft would be restored under the committee plan.
Many Democrats, as well as some advocacy groups, are calling on lawmakers to make further withdrawals from the rainy-day fund to help overcome a projected 2012-13 shortfall that could reach $26 billion. Gov. Rick Perry, however, has said he would vigorously oppose taking any more money from the fund beyond the $3.2 billion needed to address the current deficit.
The reserve, funded by oil and gas tax revenue, has a current balance of about $8.2 billion.
Staff writer Aman Batheja contributed to this report.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294