Texas lawmakers cut volunteer firefighters off from $91 million in earmarked funds
Volunteer firefighters in Texas are raising questions about why they are not getting access to more than $90 million worth of earmarked funds for their departments.
“The money is earmarked for us, why is it just sitting there?” Capt. Jonathan Reed from the Briar Volunteer Fire Department asked KXAS-TV.
According to state Rep. David Simpson (R), the blame lies within his own party.
“I’d say, ‘Look at the Appropriations Committee,'” Simpson said to the station. “Look at the leadership of the House and Senate.”
The station reported in May 2013 that more than 1,600 volunteer departments around the state had been turned down after requesting money from the Volunteer Fire Department Fund, totalling about $86 million in requests. While lawmakers involved with the allocation of the funds refused to speak to KXAS on camera, state Sen. Tommy Williams (R), who leads the Office of Finance Committee, did issue a statement.
“Nobody gets everything,” Williams’ statement read. “Funding volunteer fire departments had to be weighed along with other potentially life and death items, like Medicaid funding, nursing home funding. The predicament of volunteer fire departments highlights the difficulty we face in prioritizing limited resources among so many worthy and necessary needs.”
Williams did not explain how retaining funds supposedly set aside specifically for more than 1,600 volunteer departments in the state — including West, the site of an April 17, 2013 fertilizer plant explosion that killed five local volunteers — impacted other financial issues.
In a separate statement, state Rep. Myra Crownover (R), a member of the state House Appropriations Committee, pointed out that the most recent state budget diverted an additional $10 million toward the firefighters, calling it “a step in the right direction.”
But even though an ongoing state tax on insurance policies will have raised $91 million by 2014, KXAS reported, the state legislature has ordered the Texas Forest Service (which monitors the account) to only issue $18 million of funds to firefighters over the next two years.
“We’re lying to them,” Simpson told the station. “We’re not being people of integrity.”
Watch KXAS’ report, aired Monday, below.
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[Image: “Portrait Of A Firefighter Talking On Radio With Colleagues Standing In The Background” via Shutterstock]