For months, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has berated President Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for not giving the state more federal money to combat historic wildfires that have so far burned 2.5 million acres. Despite the fact that the administration has offered 26 different kinds of federal assistance to combat the fires, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) claimed that Obama is waging “a war on Texas.” After months of blaming the President for not doing enough, Reuters reported yesterday that Perry is poised to sign a budget that slashes funding for the state agency that is battling the wildfires.
Republicans control all three branches of government in Texas and are close to an agreement on a budget that makes deep cuts to the Texas Forest Service during an unprecedented and destructive wildfire season:
The Texas Forest Service faces almost $34 million in budget cuts over the next two years, roughly a third of the agency’s total budget. The cuts are in both the House and Senate versions of the proposed state budget. [...]
Assistance grants [for volunteer fire departments] are likely to take the biggest hit. Volunteers — two of whom were killed in fighting this year’s fires — make up nearly 80 percent of the state’s fire-fighting force and are first responders to roughly 90 percent of wildfires in Texas.
Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association, says the funding on the chopping block is indispensable. Many volunteer fire departments already have worn-down equipment, and without funding for new equipment, “response times will almost certainly increase.”
Perry’s recent boast that Texas is “a model for the nation in disaster preparedness and response” is especially ironic in light of his approval of cutting Forest Service funds when the agency most needs them. Meanwhile, the governor, who one Texas political columnist notes “has made almost a religion of blasting everything Obama does and doesn’t do,” has accused the president of pursuing a political vendetta against Texas.
“Why are you taking care of Alabama, why are you taking care of other states,” Perry said at a press conference this month, adding, “The letter [requesting federal aid] didn’t get lost in the mail.” Perry carried his public blame game so far that he even refused to meet with the president when he visited Texas last week to deliver an immigration address.
One recent Fort Worth Star Telegram editorial called out Perry for his posturing:
Their feigned outrage and indignant messages to the White House about recent Texas wildfires and the administration’s refusal to declare practically the entire state a disaster area are acts of political grandstanding rather than true concern for the safety and welfare of fellow Texans. [...]
[Perry] knows full well that his request for a disaster declaration was overstated and that his insistence that FEMA is denying help is a gross exaggeration. [...]
Even if we assume, or desperately want to believe, that the federal government has not done enough to help Texas in this crisis, does anyone believe that all but two of Texas’ 254 counties should be declared a disaster area because of wildfires? That’s preposterous.
Despite the fact that FEMA’s manpower and money have been stretched thin by a series of disasters, they’ve been deeply involved in the effort to fight the Texas fires and have given the state aid that “covers 75 percent of Texas’s costs for emergency response work, such as evacuations, equipment, field camps and meals for firefighters.”