Did Perry Slash the Volunteer Fire Fighter Budget?

by Katrina Trinko

Talking to MNSBC host Larry O’Donnell last night, former Perry opponent Jim Hightower accused Rick Perry of making draconian cuts to the volunteer fire fighter budget — no small accusation, considering the wildfires in Texas. 

“Perry with his Republican supermajority in the legislature managed to slash the budget of the volunteer fire departments in our state by 75 percent in the last legislative session. We don’t have firefighters enough to come to fight these fires. People’s homes are burning down because of his failure,” Hightower said.

A news story from Texas ABC Texas KVUE backs up Hightower’s charge, reporting in March that “state funding for volunteer fire departments is taking a big hit. It is going from $30 million to $7 million.”

The Perry campaign did not challenge the numbers, but spokesman Mark Miner e-mailed this response:

The Volunteer Firefighter Assistance Account appropriation for the 2012-13 biennium is comparable to amounts included in previous budgets signed by Gov. Perry. A one-time increase in funding for the 2010-11 biennium included funding for recommended capital costs like new equipment. Included below are the appropriations amounts for the Texas Forest Service for each budget signed by Gov. Perry. The Volunteer Firefighter Service Account is included in the total Texas Forest Service appropriation.

 The Texas legislature traditionally makes supplemental appropriations to provide additional funding to cover unexpected costs related to disasters, including wildfires. This year, the legislature approved $121 million in supplemental spending of this sort. The threat of unpredictable natural disasters including as wildfires is precisely why Gov. Perry insisted that Texas’ 2012-13 budget not include any spending from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which currently has an estimated balance of $6.5 billion.

 Texas Forest Service appropriations    

Biennium      Total (in millions)

2002 – 2003   $43.5

2004 – 2005   $70.6

2006 – 2007   $72.4

2008 – 2009   $75.2

2010 – 2011   $109.2

2012 – 2013   $75.4

Clip from MSNBC of Hightower’s comments (relevant remarks start around 3:45):

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UPDATE: Another possible issue for Perry could be his decision to ask the federal government in April for $52.5 million to help pay for costs related to combating the fires, as reported by the Wichita Falls, Tex. Times Record News. (The federal government rejected the plea.) He was simultaneously cutting spending on fire-related expenditures in the next budget.  The Times Record News reported that the Perry camp saw it as appropriate to ask the federal government to fund disaster relief:

The federal debt of $14.3 trillion aside, disaster relief is a basic federal obligation, said Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Perry.

“What the federal government needs to do is focus on reducing its spending in the areas that it should leave up to the states to take care of themselves,” Frazier said.

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