Op-Ed: Texas firefighters budget was slashed by Perry and state GOP

Posted Sep 7, 2011 by Lynn Herrmann
As the state of Texas continues battling wildfires in a season extending for almost a year, Governor Rick Perry and GOP cohorts helped guide through drastic budget cuts to the Texas Forest Service (TFS), a wrong move which has come home to roost.
A Texas wildfire.
A Texas wildfire.
Texas Military Forces/flickr
Even while the state’s leading loud-mouthed politician is on record for being fed up with the federal government, and even as he promises many federal agencies they “won’t know what hit ‘em” if he’s elected president, the aspiring world leader now faces major explaining over budget cuts to the TFS which in turn impacts the state’s volunteer fire departments, dependent on assistance grants from the TFS.
Volunteer firefighters in Texas comprise almost 80 percent of the state’s firefighting force, and are first responders to 90 percent of the state’s wildfires. “Volunteer programs are our No. 1 defense,” Forest Service Director Tom Boggus told Reuters.
The budget cuts over a two-year period, a $34 million whopper equal to roughly a third of the state agency’s budget, would be a welcome addition to an agency now strapped, thanks to rising fuel costs, and wear and tear on fire service equipment from the heightened fires.
The state’s House and Senate are controlled, in large numbers, by Republicans and in May they were miraculously able to balance the state’s $27 billion budget deficit. The balancing act, however, has come with a deadly price tag.
As Salon’s Alex Pareene noted on Wednesday, Texas can use the help. But there’s always the feds, right, Rick? Rick?
So drastic is the financial situation in Texas for firefighters that many of them are using their personal money to help pay for supplies and equipment. “We've seen budget cuts, but this is the worst time that we've ever seen,” said Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshal’s Association of Texas this past March, according to KVUE News.
“As far as the budget crisis and the fuel cost stuff for example continues to go up and it doesn't help us out any whatsoever, so with the rising fuel and the budget cuts from the state it's taken a great effect. I think the citizens and the public is going to see that,” Barron added. Did somebody say foreshadow?
Despite Perry’s best efforts at alleviating the state’s devastating drought, including a Days of Prayer campaign (which didn’t work) and a National Day of Prayer (which won’t work), it’s an interesting irony, in a deadly way, to see the state suffering it’s worst wildfire season in history, with more than 1,000 homes destroyed or damaged, millions of acres scorched, and most importantly, lives being lost.
In May, after the budget cuts passed, Perry said: “I'm pleased the Legislature voted tonight to pass a balanced budget that doesn't raise taxes and leaves more than $6 billion in the rainy-day fund,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. “Last November, the voters of Texas demanded fiscal responsibility from their elected officials, and tonight that promise was delivered.”
Actually, slick Rick, there’s yet another correction to your analysis. That would be the voters of Texas who keep voting for you. Just as cream rises to the top, the ongoing disasters in the state are rising to the top of everyone’s list of concerns, seeing how the state’s economy weathered the storm and you’ve created more jobs in Texas than any other state, even if over half a million of them are minimum wage or less.
Not to be outdone by Perry, Talmaddge Heflin, a former state representative and now director of the Center for Fiscal Policy, a branch of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, said: “We understand the difficulty they have had in dealing with almost unprecedented numbers of fires this year,” according to Reuters. “We also understand that in order to balance the budget, everybody needs to endure some reductions.”
Then, the undoing. Heflin added: “We feel they'll be able to handle whatever's thrown at them.” Go ask Austin and Bastrop. Or Fort Davis. Or Junction.
Since the drought is ongoing, wildfires continue to ravage, destroy and kill, and since his (and his supporters’) prayers go unanswered, the governor might want to forget about a rainy-day fund and either come up with a drought-and-fire fund, or reconsider the drastic budget cuts dolled out to the state’s firefighters.
And quit denouncing a federal government he is now so desperate to become a part of. Of course, the greatest irony to all this is the connection between an ongoing drought and heat wave, deadly wildfires, and the hot air continuously spewing from Rick Perry’s mouth.