Is Rick Perry's Budget Feeding Texas Wildfires? Local Fire Departments Suffer $23 Million in Cuts

AUSTIN, TEXAS -- Growing up in Texas you get used to, for better or worse, enduring what others can hardly conceive:

  • Breaking into a sweat as soon as you get out of the shower from April through November.
  • Camo-printed Crocs (yes, they exist).
  • Budgets for moderately important pillars of government -- like public safety -- being slashed by rich politicians who like to talk about "tightening our belts" as if the Texas budget was some kind of Weight Watchers program

Devastating grassfires like the ones we had this weekend, however, are a relatively new phenom. Since Texas politicians like Gov. Rick Perry, the frontrunning GOP presidential contender, insist that climate change is either a bunch of hooey or God’s will, there’s no point in even arguing that these wildfires might be around to stay. But the destruction wrought by the fires fanned by a record drought and a month of triple-digit temperatures just might have something to do with our lack of resources.

In the latest legislative session, Texas volunteer fire departments were hosed with a Perry-approved budget that cut state funding from $30 million to $7 million. To make matters worse, most of Texas is protected by volunteer firefighters -- a good 879 volunteer departments cover much of the state of Texas, as compared to the 114 paid departments and 187 departments that are a combination of both.

This lack of concern for public safety might explain why it isn't the first time Rick Perry has had a fire, literally, in his own backyard. In June 2008, America was on the precipice of electing a new president and finally turning the page on one former Texas governor's horrific White House regime. (Perry has been Texas' governor since George W. Bush moved to Washington.) All was quiet in downtown Austin the night someone chucked a bottle soaked with petrol over the fence at the Texas governor's mansion. A four-alarm fire partially destroyed the gleaming building that held the proud title of being the oldest continuously occupied house in Texas.

Perry and his wife, Anita, had already moved out of the mansion in January of that year due to a renovation project that had already begun when the Molotov cocktail was tossed into its yard. On the night of the fire, the Perrys were tucked away safely in Europe on a summer vacation. Three days after the fire, on June 11, 2008, Rick Perry made his first public address about the mansion fire. He began his speech by saying that during his time as governor, "few sights have left a deeper impression on me than the charred remains of this genuine Texas treasure standing behind me."

So as homes burned across Texas this weekend -- more than 1,000 homes burned down across Central and East Texas -- where was this deeply affected governor who had seen for himself, just a few short years ago, the devastation a fire can wage?

Why, campaigning for president, of course.

It's not quite as good an indicator as his boot size, but it says a lot about a man who's off soaking up 60-degree temperatures in the northeast while the rest of his Texas constituency bakes to a crisp. I suppose Rick Perry left us in good hands -- God's hands, of course -- when he effectively bid us, “Adios, mofo,” at his prayer rally back in August and hit the campaign trail.

Now, I'm all for praying, but had I been one of the hundreds of people packing up my photo albums and cats over the weekend in a frenzied evacuation, I can tell you that I wouldn't have simply been watching the flames and praying for rain -- I would've been hollering for the firefighters to show up.

Inconveniently, however, Rick Perry's slash-and-burn, GOP-run legislature spent more time this session prioritizing exploratory expeditions inside women's uteri than they did public safety. In fact, the Texas Forest Service, which is also responsible for Texas firefighting efforts, is also facing millions of dollars in budget cuts over the next two years. So whether you pray or call 911, the answer may be that the resources just aren't there to save you.

Rick Perry finally did show up in Austin on Sunday, immediately beginning a press tour of the various fire locations. When questioned by a reporter about the potential for a lack of firefighting resources in light of the budget cuts, Perry did what he does best: avoided the issue and reminded everyone that it's about "these people" -- meaning the victims of the fires, and not the politicians who create the legislation that harms them.

But don't worry about us, America. We'll get things down here fixed right up, just as soon as our prayers kick in. As for Rick Perry, he may not even need that old burned-out mansion if things keep turning up corndogs for him. But it does make one wonder what will happen with the mansion renovation dollars if Perry is elected president. After all, $11 million came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 -- a.k.a., the Obama stimulus plan -- you know, the one Governor Perry always talks about the states not needing.

Come to think of it, there's another thing we Texans are pretty used to down here: A terrible governor running for president -- and winning.


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