Budget reductions expectedEditor’s note: The 82nd Texas Legislature convenes on Tuesday, January 11, 2011. Although media reports vary as to the amount, every report indicates lawmakers will confront a multibillion dollar budget shortfall. TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston recently answered questions about how the upcoming legislative session and the state’s budget situation might impact the agency and its employees.
Would you agree that addressing the state budget is the most critical issue facing the Texas Legislature in 2011?Not to diminish the importance of other legislation, but in my opinion it is always the most critical issue facing lawmakers. The general appropriations bill impacts virtually everyone in the state, and balancing the budget is required by the Texas Constitution.
Do you anticipate reductions in funding for TDCJ and other state agencies?I don’t think there is any doubt that state agencies will see a reduction in appropriations for the next biennium. How much less funding may depend on how the economy improves over the next few months and how much money legislators are willing to take from the economic stabilization fund, which is also known as the Rainy Day fund.
Do you think TDCJ might be exempted from the budget reductions, as the agency was from cuts made earlier this year?Well, first of all, TDCJ was not totally exempted from the reductions requested by the governor and Legislative Budget Board in January 2010. Although the agency was not required to reduce expenditures by five percent, we did identify $55 million from various sources, to include funds targeted for much-needed capital expenditures like replacement vehicles, information technology, and laundry and kitchen equipment. I have no doubt TDCJ’s vital mission of protecting public safety will once again be of primary importance to legislators as they make budget decisions, but given some of the preliminary estimates regarding the size of the shortfall, I am skeptical that any agency will be completely exempt.
Will you oppose any further budget reductions to TDCJ?Our Legislature Appropriations Request (LAR) for fiscal years 2012 - 2013 clearly identifies our priorities for funding, and we will seek the funding necessary to maintain critical agency operations consistent with our LAR. I will also strive to ensure lawmakers understand the impact of any specific budget reductions on public safety, agency operations and our employees. Providing accurate and timely information is the most effective thing agency administrators can do in regards to dealing with legislators and the legislative process. (Note: The LAR is available on the TDCJ website.)
Do you think it is possible any prisons will be closed as a result of the state’s budget situation?Not at the expense of public safety; I think safety remains the highest priority of all our elected officials. However, if after reviewing projections of inmate population growth and considering various proposals regarding sentencing laws and other aspects of the criminal justice system, lawmakers conclude a prison could be closed without negatively impacting public safety, then it is possible.
As far as the role we will play should discussions about prison closings occur, understand this agency cannot and will not attempt to influence public policy which determines how many offenders are incarcerated. Those decisions are the prerogatives of our elected officials and are made based on various factors related to public safety and cost-effectiveness. The agency’s responsibility is to provide a safe prison environment for staff and offenders, which means our communication would focus on issues like adequate staffing and overcrowding.
Agency employees are obviously most concerned with a potential reduction in force. Do you have any idea how many positions might be impacted should appropriations be reduced?I have no idea because it would depend on where the reduction in funding occurred, but unlike some state agencies that primarily distribute grants or purchase services, we are an operational agency with a greater share of our spending going toward employee salaries. This means reduced appropriations would be more likely to impact staffing. While I realize the uncertainty is troubling, nobody can answer that question right now, so employees should be extremely skeptical if they hear rumors to the contrary. It would all be speculation.
In past legislative sessions the agency has advocated targeted salary increases for certain positions as well as across-the-board pay increases for other staff. In light of the budget situation, will you continue seeking increased compensation for TDCJ employees?Not this session. I don’t think that is realistic and see no reason to create false expectations.
When do you think employees will know the outcome of budget deliberations?Final decisions regarding the budget for the FY 2012 - 13 biennium, which begins September 1, 2011, would be made in May at the earliest, and probably no later than next August. Now, if agencies are asked to make additional spending reductions during the current fiscal year, we would know the impact of those reductions much earlier. (Note: Just as this article went to print, all state agencies received a request from the governor and the Legislative Budget Board to identify an additional 2.5 percent in possible budget savings during the current fiscal year.)
In closing, is there anything else you would like to say to TDCJ employees?The TDCJ mission is to provide public safety, promote positive change in offender behavior, reintegrate offenders into society, and assist victims of crime, and that mission is accomplished through your hard work and dedication. Every employee contributes, whether they directly supervise offenders in our correctional institutions or in the community, provide treatment and programming or perform one of the many other critical support functions. As policy makers grapple with difficult budget and policy decisions, we will try to keep you informed through this newsletter, the agency website and other means of communication.
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