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By Brad Livingston, Executive Director
The conference committee on HB 1, which appropriates funding to the Department of Criminal Justice and other state agencies for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012-13 biennium, has made tentative decisions regarding the TDCJ budget for the next two years. I want to emphasize that until such time as the appropriations bill is finally approved by the Legislature and governor, all decisions are preliminary and subject to change.
In January 2011, when HB 1 was first introduced, the proposed budget for TDCJ would have eliminated more than 2,000 positions. However, a series of legislative decisions during the last five months has substantially restored funding for the agency. In addition, actions taken to reduce FY 2011 expenditures have mitigated the impact of reduced appropriations for the upcoming biennium. While a reduction in force will still be required, primarily due to the elimination of funding for the Central Unit in Sugar Land, the number of positions eliminated will be far less. Funding for the operations of the Central Unit is eliminated effective September 1, 2011. Affected staff will be given priority consideration for vacant positions at other TDCJ correctional facilities in the area and across the state.
HB 1 as recently approved by the conference committee contains funding for the biennialization of the FY 2010-11 pay raises given to unit-based staff as well as parole officers and employees of local community supervision and corrections departments (CSCDs), and does not freeze the salaries of correctional and parole staff at their August 31, 2011 rates.
Appropriations to local community supervision and corrections departments are reduced by about $20 million; the impact this reduction will have on CSCD employees and programs is still being determined. Funding for most other treatment and diversion programs is maintained at current levels, with the exception of contract Intermediate Sanction Facility (ISF) beds. However, there are currently more beds than needed for the ISF population; consequently this reduction in funding will not have a significant operational impact.
Funding for correctional managed health care is $858.3 million, about $75 million less than the current biennium.
Appropriations for employee group health insurance are not in the TDCJ budget, but preliminary decisions would maintain the state's current contributions for health insurance premiums.
In summary, the budget reductions approved by the conference committee, while not insignificant, will have a much more manageable impact on our mission, employees and operations than the cuts contemplated in the introduced version of the bill. Let me emphasize once again that the funding decisions described above will not be finalized until the appropriations bill is passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. There are other fiscal matters which must be resolved before that occurs. This agency will continue to keep you informed throughout the legislative process.
As of late April the Texas House of Representatives has passed HB 1, which appropriates funding to the Department of Criminal Justice and other state agencies for the Fiscal Year 2012-13 biennium, while the Texas State Senate is finalizing its version of the general appropriations bill (SB 1). Ultimately, the House and Senate must agree on identical versions of the bill in order to produce a state budget for the next two years.
During consideration of HB 1, the House restored some but not all of the funding which had been cut in the bill as introduced. The bill would still require a reduction in force due to the elimination of funding for the Central Unit as well as other budget reductions, however, the number of positions impacted is greatly reduced. The initial version of the bill would have eliminated more than 2,800 positions, while the bill approved by the House would eliminate about 540 positions, mostly from the Central Unit. No single function, such as victim services or chaplaincy, has their funding entirely eliminated as was the case in the bill as introduced.
The House bill would no longer freeze the salaries of many correctional and parole staff at their August 31, 2011 rates. The bill as introduced contained a provision that would have prohibited further advancement along the career ladder, but that language has been removed from the bill.
The House also added funding for the biennialization of the FY 2010-11 pay raises given to unit-based staff as well as parole officers. I regret to say that similar funding to biennialize the pay raise given to certain employees of local Community Supervision and Corrections Departments (CSCDs) has yet to be added.
Funding for most treatment and diversion programs was also restored, with the notable exception of about $40 million allocated to local Community Supervision and Corrections Departments for residential and treatment alternatives.
Funding for correctional managed health care remains at the reduced level provided in the initial version of the bill, about $200 million less than the current biennium.
In addition to closing the Central Unit, the House bill would eliminate funding for about 2,800 beds at privately-operated secure facilities. Managing the offender population with reduced correctional and community supervision capacity, and providing offender health care with fewer resources, may be the biggest operational challenges resulting from House version of HB 1.
Although the Senate's general appropriations bill is not yet complete, we can draw some tentative conclusions from their preliminary work. The Senate bill would restore funding for many aspects of agency operations, to include operation of the Central Unit, so the need for a further reduction in force would be greatly reduced by the current version of SB 1.
The Senate bill as introduced did not include the salary freeze proposed in the House version, and that provision remains absent from SB 1. The Senate added funding for the biennialization of the FY 2010-11 pay raises given to unit-based staff and parole officers, and also included funding for a similar pay increase given to many employees of local CSCDs.
Funding for most treatment and diversion programs has been restored in SB 1, with the exception of funding for about 450 contract Intermediate Sanction Facility beds. Appropriations for basic supervision and grants to local CSCDs would remain at current funding levels.
Funding for correctional managed health care has been increased substantially above the amount contained in the Senate bill as introduced, but remains about 3 percent less than funding for the current biennium.
Although not in the agency's budget, appropriations for employee group health insurance impact all employees. HB 1 would change the state's contribution so that employees become responsible for 10 percent of the cost of their health insurance premium; the impact on co-pays and deductibles is unclear. Preliminary information regarding Senate action on group health insurance indicates relatively little change to premiums or other costs to employees.
Everything about the state's budget for the next biennium remains a work in progress, so whether appropriations to TDCJ will most resemble those contained in the House or Senate bill, or reflect something in between or entirely different, has yet to be determined. All that can be said with any certainty is that as of today, the budget outlook for this agency is better than it was a few short months ago. I want to emphasize how quickly things can change; don't assume anything has been resolved yet.
I also want to emphasize that however painful the FY 2011 budget reductions were for the affected staff, to include not only those whose positions were eliminated but their co-workers as well, they were necessary. Absent those difficult decisions, our credibility when speaking to the impact of further reductions would be compromised. I firmly believe we would be looking at greater reductions in force had the agency not taken decisive action.
Once again, thank you for everything you do. The agency will continue to keep you informed throughout the legislative process.
|TBCJ Member Judge Larry Gist
Photo by Jene Robbins
Governor Rick Perry in March announced the appointment of Judge Larry Gist of Beaumont to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ). He replaces Pastor Charles Lewis Jackson of Houston on the nine-member board which oversees the operations of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Judge Gist is a Senior Criminal District Judge in Beaumont and has served as a member and chairman of the Judicial Advisory Council, whose role is to advise the agency and TBCJ on matters of interest to the judiciary. He received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame and a J.D. from the University of Texas Law School. He is a frequent lecturer to local, state, national, and international groups and conferences on criminal law issues and has served on a variety of task forces, committees and boards addressing a range of legal issues.
Gov. Perry also announced the reappointments of Thomas Mechler of Amarillo and Leopoldo Vasquez III of Houston. All three appointments are for terms to expire February 1, 2017.