AUSTIN -- Texas, Our Texas, all hail the mighty state! Gov. Goodhair Perry has promised to use $10 million of state money to help map the bovine genome, the genetic code of a cow, a project to be carried out at Baylor and Texas A&M. Through a bureaucratic fubar, the Texas Department of Health failed to spend $12.5 million of the money it had budgeted to take care of the most desperately ill poor children in this state. Children with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida and heart problems were put on a waiting list -- 1,400 of them -- because the department thought the program was about to go broke.

As Clay Robison of the Houston Chronicle pointed out in a fine column, this should have been a no-brainer. Great, we've got 12.5 more than we thought we had for desperately ill children. Hurray!

Nope. Because the money didn't get spent, it has been declared "surplus" and is being treated as part of the Health Department's contribution to solving our $9.9 billion state deficit. And it could cover the cost of the bovine genome project. Lite Guv David Dewhurst proposes a grand total of $2.5 million be given back to the critically ill children -- and that will cover 150 of the 1,400 children on the waiting list. A young man who is 160th on the waiting list -- and needs lifesaving heart surgery -- appeared last week at the Capitol to ask for help.

Now normally when the state of Texas kills people, it is done at the Walls in Huntsville -- and we like to think the perps deserve it, despite the fact that our state's appellate system is essentially non-functioning. We do not, as a rule, kill poor handicapped children because of some bureaucratic misjudgment.

Don't you think we should have a vote on this before it becomes state policy? I mean, this is not going to help our reputation for being uncivilized. Could we maybe hear from some of the Christian ministers with which our state abounds on this issue? Where are our friends in the anti-abortion movement? They think it's murder to abort a fetus. What is it when the state lets a 15-year-old die when there's actually money that's already been appropriated for his care?

For those of us who wondered just how ugly it was going to get when the state was completely taken over by Republicans who had all sworn never to increase taxes -- never, ever, ever, from their cold, dead hands would we get a tax increase in this notoriously low-tax state -- well, there it is, as they used to say in Nam.

The Texas GOP plan for dealing with our deficit is to cut 250,000 poor children off the largely federally funded Children's Health Insurance Program. (This is entirely separate from the snafu over at the Health Department.) Yep, how better to balance the budget than on the backs of poor children? God forbid we should extend the franchise tax to law firms (precious little lawyers, better we should let poor children get sick and die than make lawyers pay taxes). Is this really what you thought you were voting for last fall?

And now for some credit where credit is due. I figured our only hope this session was pragmatic, veteran Republican lawmakers -- guys like the soundly sensible Bill Ratliff in the Senate and the excellent Toby Goodman (never a man better named) in the House. Tell you who is emerging, from all accounts, as one of the surprise stars of the session is Lite Guv Dewhurst. Put me down as among the most surprised.

Given his record (zilch), we had no reason to hope for anything from this guy. But Dewhurst, the newest player on the statewide team, apparently gets it -- sort of. I'm not promising you Bill Hobby or Bob Bullock, but the guy's not bad. For one thing, he's apparently focused on the $9.9 billion deficit and has decided they don't have any time to waste on silly stuff like outlawing gay marriage. (You may well think gay marriage is a bad idea, but outlawing it does dog to close a $9.9 billion deficit.)

The new House speaker, Tom Craddick, taking over with a substantial majority, has apparently decided to scrap what little was left of the Texas tradition of bipartisanship and run it all his way. Dewhurst, with a more delicately balanced Senate, is working -- more or less -- in the old tradition.

I suppose it's the media's fault (it usually is) that we let the candidates last year get away with that garbage about "scrubbing the budget." Texas government was tighter than a tick to begin with. You try and cut something like Parks and Wildlife, and your only option is to sell state parks. Try and cut something that sounds frivolous, say historical preservation, and you cut right into bankable economic development. Hate the "Robin Hood" plan that takes from 116 rich school districts to give to 887 others? You can change it to the "Sheriff of Nottingham" plan if you want, but there's one thing about "Robin Hood" you should keep in mind: Bad as it is, it works. It does exactly what it is supposed to -- it gives poor kids a chance.

Of course, it desperately needs improvement. But that would involve the T-word, and we wouldn't want to mention that, would we?

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