Rick Perry hates the federal government so much, he wishes they would just go away, completely, except when he needs them to send him bulldozers. Why does Rick Perry need bulldozers? Because he is the governor of Texas, and much of Texas is currently on fire. Wildfires are right now burning thousands of homes, exacerbated by a devastating drought that has persisted all year, despite prayer.
Perry has spent this entire disastrous year berating the feds for not spending enough time, attention and — most important — money on helping his fire and drought-ridden state, at one point claiming the president had a personal vendetta against the state of Texas. (The U.S. Forest Service and National Interagency Fire Center are currently commanding firefighting efforts near Bastrop.)
Of course Rick Perry doesn’t want to see Texas burn, so it is rational of him to ignore his rhetorical distaste for the federal government and demand that it help. And Texas could use the help, because Perry and the Republicans who control all three branches of Texas government have severely slashed the budget of the Texas Forest Service.
Perry’s fanatical opposition to raising revenue to close Texas’ budget gap meant that his allies in the Legislature had to find creative ways to cut costs, like cutting $34 million over the next two years from the agency that fights wildfires. The Forest Service is mostly volunteer-based, and the cuts will largely affect the state’s assistance grants to buy volunteer departments the tools they need to fight fires.
The Forest Service was appropriated $117.7 million for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. That is not enough to cover the expense of fighting the fires currently burning across the state. For the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which began this month, the agency was appropriated $83 million.
The state has already approved supplemental spending to pay for firefighting that has already taken place, which is also $61 million short of what is needed. So, in other words, the budget intentionally appropriates less money than everyone knows the Forest Service will actually need in order to maintain the illusion of fiscal responsibility. And the Republicans will demand more federal money to make up the gap. While decrying federal spending.
Ken Layne draws a connection between gutting the Forest Service budget and the growing trend of municipal budget slashing done primarily to prove seriousness about the moral necessity of “austerity” in these Tough Times. But Perry’s not allowing everything to go to hell, like the people of Costa Mesa, Calif., so much as he’s requiring fiscal irresponsibility to pay for very basic services, like putting out fires. No new taxes and balanced budgets until it turns out we need money really bad!