Judge Cockerham in Austin tackling unfunded mandates

January 30, 2013


County Judge Darrell Cockerham headed for Austin on Monday to go to bat for Hood County in the face of proposed budget cuts by the Legislature.

Cockerham said he was going to be part of a “core legislative group” and was to attend training regarding top legislative issues. The workshop was sponsored by the Texas Association of Counties (TAC).

The judge said that he and representatives of other counties were to meet Tuesday night with state Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and state Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland).

“Right now, it’s precautionary,” Cockerham said of the meetings to talk about the budget. He said that the Legislature often slashes budgets, putting greater burdens on county governments through unfunded mandates.

“What they do is, they pass a lot of those costs down to us,” he said.

Cockerham gave several examples of proposed budget cuts. Voter registration – which was $5 million in 2010 – is now down to $1 million, he said. Funding for public library services is $1.7 million, down from $14 million in 2011 and $7 million in 2012. Indigent health care was $7 million in 2011, but has now plummeted to $2 million. Money for volunteer fire departments, he said, “has been cut almost in half.”

Though Cockerham went to Austin prepared to hear news about more belt-tightening, testimony last Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee painted a rosier picture.

John Helleman, chief revenue estimator for the comptroller, said that Texas is “at the head of the pack” as states are emerging from the national recession. He said the job market in Texas has “completely rebounded.”

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