On Sunday, Feb. 27, the Texas Panhandle experienced the worst firestorm since 2006 when we burned more than 1,000,000 acres of land. Although this year we did not burn as much acreage, less than 100,000 acres across the Panhandle, the impact and financial loss will exceed that of the 2006 fire because of the number of structures that were lost. In Potter and Randall counties alone there were 70 structures lost, 58 of which were homes. As fires roared across more than 15 Texas Panhandle counties, flames were whipped along by winds exceeding 70 miles per hour. Most if not all Panhandle counties were involved in fighting these very dangerous fires which stretched our emergency services to the limit.
One of the greatest attributes of our state is our willingness to come to the aid of our neighbors, and that is always exhibited by our emergency service personnel both paid and volunteer. That also brings to light another concern we have today with all of the budget cuts pending. We in Texas, and especially in rural Texas, depend on help from the Emergency Services Fund to help maintain the equipment it takes to provide adequate protection for our citizens.
There is another firestorm brewing in our state as the Texas Legislature struggles with deep cuts being proposed at all levels of government. Our economic condition has created an environment that is unparalleled in our country and our state. Recent elections have shown that there is a demand to cut government waste even to the point of cutting government in general without regard to effect. If we simply cut the budget for the sake of cutting government spending without giving thought to where those cuts come from and how many lives will be affected because of it, then we are not cutting the budget; rather, we are dismantling progress that we have already paid for.
We all want to cut waste in government by cutting away the fat, but we must not destroy the good parts of programs in doing so. One problem I see is in the way the cuts are being proposed. The Legislature is telling everyone that they must cut their budgets by this or that percent. This will cause even the best agencies to cut at the service level and not where the true fat is. This in turn creates a situation where the citizens of this state get less service for their tax dollar while the fat remains. We must create an environment where agencies are rewarded for their efficiency and encourage them to cut budgets to eliminate fat while services remain or increase. This is extremely difficult if not impossible if those in the agencies are left to determine where the cuts are made. My prayer for Texas is that we will have a group of leaders step up and display their patriotism by being statesmen instead of politicians and do what is right for Texas without regard to party or political ambition.
One thing we must do is stand firm on our support of House Joint Resolution 56 and Senate Joint Resolution 17. During this time of cutting state spending we must be vocal and educate our citizens and our legislators, and let them know that cuts in state spending cannot be pushed down on the backs of local taxpayers. This will only take place if we adopt a constitutional amendment to prohibit unfunded mandates. Our governor has appointed an advisory committee to study unfunded mandates. I believe the time for study is over, and the time to take action is now.
Remember, politicians are a dime a dozen and they come and go, but statesmen are as rare as fine pearls and they are remembered for generations.