[W]hile Perry complains about the feds’ response, he and Texas lawmakers have also been called to task for huge cuts to state firefighting resources passed earlier this year. The two-year budget that took effect last Thursday includes a 75 percent slash to volunteer fire departments — from $30 million to $7 million — and a one-third cut to the Texas Forest Service. State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) said this year’s fires near the capital city underscore the need to better fund the emergency-services districts stretched thin at the outskirts of Texas’ growing cities.
Texas’ 879 volunteer departments are the first line of defense against wildfires for much of the state. The forest service, with 230 firefighters and 15 trucks, provides statewide support. After that, help comes from the federal government and other states.
Cutting volunteer fire departments by 75 percent, and instead attending prayer events to ask God for rain? Yeah, that sounds like modern conservatism. As does slashing disaster preparedness, then coming to beg from the federal government when disaster actually strikes.
It should be noted that these cuts happened even during Texas' current "historic" fire season, so it's not a case of not being able to foresee why keeping firefighting services around might have some practical use. And it's not stopping Perry from complaining that he's not getting enough federal aid, even while cutting grants that allow volunteer fire departments to actually buy equipment to fight future fires.
There is one difference between Perry's conservatism and that of, say, Eric Cantor, who finds himself out on a limb that few of his fellow Republicans dare join him on: nobody in Texas is talking about not fighting the fires because they don't want to pay for it. On the contrary:
Although the Legislature cut the Texas Forest Service's budget by a third this year to respond to a state budget crisis, officials said Tuesday the agency will deploy whatever resources are necessary to deal with wildfires raging across the state and then deal with the bill later. [...]
"There is no financial impediment for (the forest service) to respond," said Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.
Huffman said it is impossible to plan for fires of this magnitude, so the agency will ask legislators when they return in 2013 to cover the expense of fighting the fires now. [...]
"We'll deal with the dollar side of it when that's appropriate," Gov. Rick Perry told CBS's "The Early Show" on Tuesday morning. "The money side of this will take care of itself later."
I think perhaps even the neanderthal caucus recognizes that one way or another, governments will have to pay for fighting fires and other basic preparedness and response efforts. Axing the budgets for dealing with such things leads to wonderful savings on paper, but nobody, not even Perry or, I dare say, Cantor, would actually tolerate cutting the actual firefighting part of the job by 75 percent. So yes, they'll find the money. The whole point of government is (shudder) "collective" disaster protection and response.