Saturday, January 29, 2011

Our Muni Gov: Open Source Gov 2.0

I just found out about a website called Our Muni Gov that offers open source software for cities and towns to communicate with each other and to communicate with their citizens.  City budgets being what they are, free software is always a plus.  I'll be adding a link to the site under helpful sites.

Friday, January 28, 2011

HOV Lanes, Save Time on Your Commute

The Texas Transportation Institute has just completed its annual Urban Mobility study.  This is a nationwide study that looks at population, freeway and arterial street miles traveled, public transportation, fuel and personal costs to determine how long we spend in "Rush Hour" traffic.  As you all have probably guessed San Antonio has moved up the ladder of congested cities over the years, from a ranking of 34 in 1984 to 32 in 2009. 

But what's really interesting is back in 1988 we actually had more traffic congestion than we have now with a ranking of the 28th most congested city.  So what happened? The number of freeway lane and arterial street miles went up between 1988 and 2009 (48% more freeway lanes and 29% more arterial street miles), but the number of vehicles miles traveled went up by 102% on freeways and 61% on arterial streets.  So we are way behind on building enough streets.  But in 1988 we didn't have the TxDOT "Smart Highway System".  This system of cameras and highway instant warning signs helps TxDOT to manage traffic by letting commuters know about congestion ahead and getting service vehicles and police out to the scenes of accidents more quickly. 

So if the cameras and warning signs can make such a difference, what if we added HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes to the mix.  In Houston (where they need all the time savings they can get) the 2.2 million HOV lane miles save Houstonians 2.8 million hours in traffic, and in Dallas/Ft. Worth/Arlington, where HOV lanes are relatively new, the 390,000 HOV lane miles save 433,000 hours in traffic.  New lanes wouldn't even have to be added to the highways, they would just need to be striped and signs would need to be posted, much cheaper and faster than building new lanes.  Wouldn't you like to save more time on your commute?

For more information on HOV lanes, check out this post.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Texas, Cutting Our Nose Off to Spite Our Face?

Right now the Texas Legislature is contemplating numerous bills to cut the budget.  The Legislature is considering drastic cuts to Higher Education, K through 12 Education, Medicaid and the Criminal Justice/Prison System, and not even considering raising taxes.  Well who wants to pay more taxes, we pay so much now, right?

Well, According to the Tax Foundation, Texas ranked 43rd with an 8.4% tax rate in State-Local tax burdens in 2008. The tax rate has gone up a whopping 0.3% since 1977. 

Now I'm not saying that I'm dying to pay more taxes, but I think we have to look at our budget problems in a balanced way.  There certainly are some cuts that need to be made to make education more efficient, but cutting Higher and K through 12 Education to the bone is not good for the Texas Economy, our STRONG POINT.  According to Joel Kotkin of New Geography

Migration patterns are also changing among college-educated workers. Between 2005 and 2007, Texas, Virginia and North Carolina already enjoy higher rates per capita of net migration of educated workers between the ages of 22 and 39 than California, New York or Massachusetts.

This advantage could expand as the upcoming states increase their educational offerings along with employment opportunities. Students may end up tempted to attend schools closer to where there is job growth. Unlike Austin and Raleigh-Durham, which have rapidly expanded tech employment, Silicon Valley has produced virtually no new net tech jobs for the past decade.

The second impact may  be more subtle, as declining revenues from businesses and individuals reduces the opportunity to boost education spending. As the country stumbles into this recovery, the greatest advantage will fall not only to states with the most natural resources, but those with the best-educated human resources. For a half century this is a game that states like California have played to perfection, but it is one in which other places are likely to catch up, and perhaps even pass. The long-term implications for the nation’s economic geography could prove profound.
Do we want to lose the advantages Texas has over other states by striping our Education system?  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Banning the Bag: Becoming a Trend?

South Padre has just jumped on the bag banning band wagon, after the success in Brownsville.  This makes sense in coastal communities, where plastic bags can wreak havoc on sea birds and marine life.  Local surfer activists pushed this measure through the city council with a unanimous outcome.  These two communities (Brownsville pop about 176,000, South Padre pop about 2800) are relatively small compared to San Antonio, but they are interesting case studies to see how the populace reacts to the ban. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

How Do I Get Food Stamps?

Everyone needs a helping hand now and then, and with the recession, there are more and more families and individuals signing up for food assistance.  Just from January to December 2010 food stamp recipients went up by 12.6% in Texas and 15.6% in Bexar County. 

Foods Stamps, now known as the SNAP program have benefit programs that last anywhere from one month to three years, but usually last about 6 months.  Just before the expiration of benefits recipients can reapply for assistance.  Families, the disabled, pregnant women and the elderly, generally get longer benefits than individual adults (between 18 and 50).  Individual adults are usually limited to 3 months of benefits within a 3 year period, unless they work at least 20 hours a week or are in a job training program.

To qualify for Texas Food Stamps, you must:
  1. Be a resident of the State of Texas
  2. Fall into one of two groups:
    • Those with a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $2,001
    • Those with a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $3,001 who share their household with a person or persons aged 60 years and over, or with a person with a disability (a child, your spouse, a parent, or yourself)
  3. Have an annual household income of less than:
    • $16,848, if one person lives in the household
    • $22,596, if two people live in the household
    • $28,332, if three people live in the household
    • $34,080, if four people live in the household
    • $39,816, if five people live in the household
    • $45,564, if six people live in the household
    • $51,300, if seven people live in the household

The first step to receiving food stamps is to get qualified by using the SNAP benefits calculator.  The calculator uses information such as weekly income, education assistance (student loans, financial aid, scholarships, grants), workers compensation, TANF benefits (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Retirement Survivors and Disability Insurance, Veterans benefits, supplemental Social Security Income, and other income you may have earned on your own (all considered income--money that you have to spend.)  You will also need to provide information on how much money you have in the bank, checking and savings, and if you have any stocks or bonds.  It also asks about any vehicles you might own, their approximate value, how much you owe to pay off the car, and how you use the vehicle.  Then the calculator asks for your monthly expenses such as child support payments, childcare expenses, medical expenses(for the disabled and elderly) and housing and utility costs.  By subtracting your expenses from your income the calculator will tell you what programs you are eligible for.

Once you have figured out that you are eligible you need to fill out a formal application (English or Spanish).
There are also certain documents you will need to show proof of your eligibility: 
  • an ID card or a Texas drivers license 
  • Social Security card 
  • a qualified alien card if you are not a US citizen 
  • any type of legal documents that relate to your status, such as court orders or guardianship papers 
  • pay stubs and a statement from your employer or proof of self-employment 
  • pay stubs or award letters from any type of supplemental income (Social Security, Worker's comp, Veteran's benefits, etc)  
  • proof of child support payments
  • Loan agreements, or statements from persons who have given you gifts of money
  • Bank Statements
  • Stock certificates, annuity contracts, trust agreements
  • Current tax statements
  • Medical bills
  • Copies of check stubs for rent or mortgage payments
  • Utility bills
  • Check stubs for dependent care services
  • Medical records confirming pregnancy
  (If you don't have a bank account or stocks, that's okay, they just want to see these things if you have them.) 

After you have filled out the application you can mail or fax it to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, or you can call 211 to apply over the phone.  You can also apply online at  At some point you will probably have to go to Texas Health and Human Services to receive your benefits.  Click here for directions to the local office.

However, they can talk with you over the phone or can come to your home if:
  • You live more than 30 miles away from the closest HHSC benefits office.
  • You can’t come to the HHSC benefits office because of bad weather.
  • You are sick.
  • You can’t get a ride to the HHSC benefits office.
  • Your work or training hours do not allow you to come to the HHSC benefits office.
  • You can’t travel because you are 60 years old or older, or you have a disability.
  • You are a victim of family violence.
  • You are taking care of someone who lives in your home.
The HHSC also offers an interpreter service.

There are also online resources to help you with your application such as the Food Stamps Network,
and 211 Texas.

Applying for food stamps takes time and perseverance, so don't give up and ask for help when you need it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Recycling Building Materials

I just found this out today and thought it was worth sharing.  Habitat for Humanity has recently opened 3 Home Centers here in SA, where they sell building materials, flooring, area carpets, kitchen and bathroom cabinets and furniture donated by builders and building supply companies at reduced prices.  (If you don't live in SA checkout the national website and put in your zip code for locations near you.)

They can also resell building materials from your house.  Habitat offers free deconstruction and tearout services for your remodeling project.  The wrecking crew then salvages the materials and they are sold at the store.  Plus, you can use it as a tax deduction!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why all the Uproar in Compton? Single Member Districts

Compton, notorious for gang violence, is now in the news for an issue that its city leaders probably never expected to face.  They are being sued for civil rights violations.  At issue is the all African American city council and other elected officials in a city with a majority Latino population, over 67% by some estimates.  The Latino advocates are calling for a change from at large elections to single member districts.  So what's the difference?

At large elections elect candidates for the entire city, no areas are separated.  In Compton the African American population votes as a block and has a much larger proportion of elegible voters, despite its smaller population, in contrast to the Latino population.  According to estimates, 24,000 residents in the Compton school district are illegal immigrants.  The civil rights complaint claims that there are about 63,000 Latinos in Compton (total population approximately 94,000.)  So even accouting for the illegal population there are still about 39,000 Latino American citizens in Compton that should be allowed representation on the city council. 

The way to remedy this situation is by setting up single member districts, or proportional voting.  Single member districts were originally developed to help minority populations participate in city government in majority white cities.  Single member districts were first used in New York City to break the Democratic Machine, but then were returned to at large voting later by the Republican majority.  San Antonio moved to single member districts in 1977 after many years of struggle by COPS (Citizens for Public Service) and the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project.  The city is now divided into 10 districts that are supposed to reflect the different ethnic populations of the city.

Compton is a special case since the majority population is Latino, but more than a third of that segment are illegal aliens.  If single member districts are set up in the city they will have to be drawn carefully to reflect the legal population, which could pose other legal problems, like how do you determine where exactly to draw the lines.

Latinos are no longer confined to the Southwest, they are now living in areas that probably never thought they would hear Spanish on a daily basis, such as Lincoln, Nebraska and Minidoka, Idaho.  I expect to see more cases like this as the Latino population swells in the US. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Who Owns the Water in Texas? Groundwater

Water is basically free, right?  And it belongs to the people, so they have it to use as they see fit, right?  Well, not really, Water Law in Texas is a complicated matter and crucial to Texas' future. This is the first of a three part series on Texas Water Law.

There are three distinctions for water in Texas, Groundwater (water that percolates down into the soil), surface water (rivers, lakes, streams and creeks), and drainage water (runoff water after a rain storm.) 

Currently, groundwater is technically owned by the property owner.  The landowner can pump and capture the water under his property.  The landowner can even sell the water he pumps out of his property.  However, if his neighbor pumps all the water out of the ground before he builds a well, too bad!  In Texas, this is called "the law of the biggest pump."

"The law of the biggest pump" is currently effecting the West Texas town of Fort Stockton. The town has been battling for water with former gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams over his plans to sell water from the town's main water supply, the Trinity Aquifer, which is already under stress from naturally dropping water levels.  The Trinity just happens to run under William's property and he plans sell the water to a town 100 miles away, leaving Fort Stockton high and dry.  Back in the late 1940s, (and strengthened in 1985) the legislature set up water conservation districts to provide some limited regulation of ground water use.  Luckily, Williams rights to the water only extends as far as land irrigation based on a permit he received from the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District.  But the conservation district could still rule in Williams favor and allow the water to be sold.  This would set a dangerous precedent for towns in West Texas with limited water supply.

The Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District isn't the only one in a quandary.  The Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), set up in 1993, regulates water use over the Edwards Aquifer in all or part of 8 counties near San Antonio.  The water authority has a legal mandate to manage, enhance, and protect the Edwards Aquifer system.  It does this partly by issuing water use permits to landowners throughout is 8,800 acre district.  Since the Authority is charged with preserving and conserving the water in the aquifer, it limits the amount of water any one landowner can pump.  Since 1996, the EAA has been defending it's belief that ground water should not be owned by the property holder in a legal battle with
Burrell Day and Joel McDaniel [who] requested a permit to pump 700 acre-feet from the ground. The two wanted to start a peanut and oat farm on the 350-acre ranch they had recently purchased. Their plan was to use the free-flowing water from a well drilled by the previous owner that was filling a 50-acre man-made lake on the property. The EAA denied their application for groundwater.
The EAA did issue them a permit that allowed Day and McDaniel to pump 14 acre feet per day.  (One acre foot of water can provide enough water for the typical single family home in San Antonio for an entire year.)  Day and McDaniel sued EAA, claiming the authority was regulating them out of their ownership of the groundwater they legally own. The case has been in the courts ever since, and just this last February finally made it to the Texas Supreme Court.  The amicus curiae (friend of the court, interested parties who are not involved in the suit, but believe the courts decision could effect them, i.e. other farmers in the EAA district) briefs are still being filed for the case, and so far the court has not issued any opinions.  The Texas Supreme Court's decision in this case, could radically change Texas Ground Water Law.
In general, the other courts agreed with the EAA and the outcome of the permit process. But the state Court of Appeals ruled landowners do have “some ownership rights in the groundwater.”

On Wednesday [Feb 2, 2010], the EAA argued that if the groundwater is owned by the landowners, then it and the roughly 95 groundwater conservation districts in the state would be open to a lawsuit every time they tried to limit pumping or be forced to compensate landowners.

“This is no small question for the authority,” the EAA lawyers wrote in their brief to the court.
The EAA would have its “legs pulled out from underneath it” if the court ruled against it, EAA lawyer Pamela Baron told the justices.
In order to remedy this type of situation, State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, is submitting Senate Bill 332 this legislative session to change groundwater rights.  He wants the groundwater rights to be given to the property owner before he puts a well on his property.  The Texas Water Solutions blog takes issue with the bill.
According to Senator Fraser, Senate Bill 332 “would clearly state that landowners have a vested ownership interest in the groundwater beneath their property…[G]roundwater conservation districts could still require a landowner to get a permit and limit the amount of groundwater that can be produced. However, the legislation would prevent a district from "taking" a landowner's right to capture the water beneath the land.” 
This all sounds very reasonable and benign, but the reality is that this legislation could undermine the ability of groundwater conservation districts (GCD) to effectively manage the very resource that they are charged with protecting.  If every landowner has a vested right to the groundwater beneath their property how can a GCD manage that land owners’ access without it being considered a taking?
Fair and equitable use of groundwater will likely be a continuing, contentious, and sometimes volitile issue between cities and farmers/ranchers throughout this century, as Texas population grows and Climate Change slowly makes Texas a dryer and dryer place. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Smart Way SA Mass Transit Plan Open House

Starting January 26, 2011, VIA will be holding Open Houses to discuss San Antonio's  SmartWaySA transportation plan.  The plan integrates bus, light rail and modern street cars to improve mass transit in the city.

Wednesday, January 26, 6pm - 8pm
Harlandale Civic Center
115 West Southcross Blvd

Thursday, January 27, 6pm - 8pm
Park Hills Baptist Church
17747 San Pedro Ave

Monday, January 31, 1pm - 5pm
VIA Metro Center
1021 San Pedro Ave

Wednesday, February 2, 6pm - 8pm
The Neighbohood Place
3014 Rivas Street

Thursday, February 3, 6pm - 8pm
Sam Houston High School
4635 East Houston Street

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What the Heck is a Brownfield?

So here is the legal definition of a Brownfield:
With certain legal exclusions and additions, the term "brownfield site" means real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. [as defined in Public Law 107-118 (H.R. 2869) - "Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act" signed into law January 11, 2002]
Throughout the inner cores of cities in the US there are pieces of property that are lying vacant because they at one time had a gas station, a manufacturing facility or some other type of hazardous use performed on them.  Now that the New Urbanists are singing the praises of inner city living, more and more people are looking for places to live.  Unfortunately there's only so many housing units, but there is property that can be developed for housing if it can be cleaned up first, the brownfield.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a program that encourages the cleanup and reuse of brownfields.
provides direct funding for brownfields assessment, cleanup, revolving loans, and environmental job training. To facilitate the leveraging of public resources, EPA's Brownfields Program collaborates with other EPA programs, other federal partners, and state agencies to identify and make available resources that can be used for brownfields activities. In addition to direct brownfields funding, EPA also provides technical information on brownfields financing matters.
Funding and grants are provided for anything from coming up with an area wide assessment, to cleanup money, to job training grants.  They also have links to other federal agencies and private groups that offer grants and assisstance.  There is even a National Brownfield Association, a non-profit dedicated to sustainable development of previously undevelopable land.

Some successful brownfield developments are a Senior Citizen housing facility in Houston and and the Evans Avenue redevelopment project in  Fort Worth.  San Antonio's most well known brownfield redevelopment project is the old Alamo Cement Factory at Basse and Hwy 281, now the Quarry Market.  Even part of the San Antonio BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) plan includes the Fort Sam Houston sustainable neighborhood revitalization plan
One way to preserve valuable landscapes while accommodating a growing population is
to redevelop previously used urban lands, sometimes known as "brownfields."
Even with the expense of environmental clean-up, a recycled parcel is often less
expensive to develop than new land, because it is already serviced by roads, utilities,
and other infrastructure. Brownfield development also relieves some pressure to
develop farms and other open space.
In San Antonio, Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZ) are used to faciliate brownfield redevelopment. 
The City uses TIF in areas where little to no private sector investment is currently taking place, and where redevelopment would not occur solely through private investment in the reasonably foreseeable future.
TIF allows future ad valorem and sales tax revenue to pay for the construction of public infrastructure improvements.
By leveraging private investment for certain types of development within a targeted area, TIF can be used to finance new and/or enhanced public improvements and infrastructure. These improvements and infrastructure, in turn, attract additional private investment in surrounding areas.
If you are interested in brownfield redevelopment contact the City of San Antonio Housing and Neighborhood Services Department's TIF Unit.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bexar County borders

Here's a fun fact from the San Antonio Remembers blog

January 5 in San Antonio history...

Bexar County is created by order of the Republic of Texas Congress. It was originally much, much larger. By 1850, it went all the way to the panhandle! 128 Texas counties have been created from Bexar County.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

City County Merger? Would it Make Sense?

Lyle Larson, State Representative Elect, R-San Antonio, is proposing a consolidation of city and county government functions.  This is not a new idea, The late State Senator Frank Madla was a proponent of consolidation, but always faced huge opposition. 

So why consolidate?

According to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington
The proponents of consolidation argue that fewer and larger local governments will be more efficient and effective than many small governments.  Costs can be held down and perhaps reduced through the elimination of duplicative services, personnel, and equipment. Larger governments may also be able to take advantage of “economies of scale” or lower per-unit costs for government services. Further, a single unified government will be better able to coordinate policies and decisions for activities, such as regional planning and economic development, than several independent governments.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Policy Research Institute did a study that looked at consolidations in seven metro areas in order to determine if consolidation would work for Milwaukee.

Each consolidation is different.
  • In Nashville-Davidson County, Tennessee, the governments are completely merged, except for a few smaller municipalities within the county that remained separate.  However there are two taxing districts, one for the urban areas and one for the less populated areas and services are divided accordingly.  
  • The Jacksonville-Duval County, Florida governments are partially merged with several independent authorities and boards, such as the Electric Authority and the Public Beaches Hospital Board.  
  • Indianapolis-Marion County, Indiana, has multiple tiers and layers, with some services consolidated and some run independently by the county or the city. 
  • Lexington-Fayette County, Kentucky has a true consolidation of all city and county services, and all services are provided for all citizens across the county.  
  • In Louisville-Jefferson County, Kentucky, the Board of Aldermen and the County Fiscal Court were replaced by a Mayor-Council form of government, but 85 incorporated cities (22% of the county population) within the county remain independent.  Also some county officials still maintain their offices, such as the sheriff and the county attorney.  
  • Miami-Dade County, Florida is not a formal consolidation, but more of a federation, although the governments are independent of each other, they are closely linked.  The merger links activities such as transportation, airport facilities, and sewer and water facilities while leaving policing and fire protection up to individual municipalities.  
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, which is more similar to San Antonio in that it was not in crisis, like several of the other cities that consolidated, and the idea had been batted around for several years before it was implemented.  The city and county governments still exist but they are highly linked in service functions, with like services merged, such as Public Works. 

But does Consolidation truly promote efficiency?? According to Chris Pineda of the Government Innovators Network at the Harvard Kennedy School
In theory, consolidation should produce economies of scale which allows cost savings to be achieved – average costs are reduced when spread out over a wider set of users. The reality is that this may not always occur—but why? Why do city-county consolidations not always produce cost savings and, in some case, actually lead to higher costs? To help local and state officials grappling with this issue, we have summarized recent literature on the causes of diseconomies of scale in city-county consolidations and listed useful online resources.

What Causes Diseconomies of Scale in a City-County Consolidation?

  • Labor intensive services. Consolidated city services that are labor intensive and require replication from one neighborhood to the next cannot always achieve economies of scale and may in fact result in diseconomies of scale. Labor intensive services can include: police, general fire protection, public works, and parks and recreation services. [based on studies by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington]
  • Bureaucracy growth. According to some economists, diseconomies of scale in consolidated local governments occur because bureaucrats and politicians become removed from day-to-day contact with residents. When these officials are “out-of-touch” with citizen concerns, there may be no incentive to cut costs, or to stop increased spending. [based on a study by the Cato Institute]

  • Merging personnel-related costs. In city-county consolidations, personnel-related costs may actually rise as two pre-existing personnel systems and benefits packages merge. One explanation is that the wages and benefits of employees are equalized to the highest level of comparable employees. Similarly, existing employees may have job security as part of the merge agreement. [based on a study of Athens-Clarke County by Campbell and Selden, University of Georgia]

  • Merging service quality costs. When pre-existing delivery systems are merged in a city-county consolidation, an “averaging up” effect may occur with service levels and standards for equipment and facilities. These increased service quality costs then become ongoing expenditures. [Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington]                                                                                                              
  • One-time transition costs. Consolidating city services may require one-time operating and capital expenses that can quickly add up. One-time transition costs can include: merging and upgrading computer systems and consulting fees to resolve conflicting rules and regulations. [Campbell and Selden, University of Georgia]
But it would still be nice to make our local governments more efficient, so here are some alternatives, proposed by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, study that could work for San Antonio.
  • Increased Citizen Responsibility for Themselves and Others
  • Functional Consolidation Among Governments
  • Efficiency Gains Within City and County Government
  • Regional Government
  • Regional Cooperation On Selected Services

Increased Citizen Responsibility, basically means we act in a volunteer capacity to improve our neighborhoods, for example, through neighborhood watches and/or organizations.  Functional Consolidations could include mergers of police and sheriff departments, public works and procurement (to name a few).  Efficiency gains would include internal audits of government agencies to find ways to lower costs.  A regional government, that say included all the counties that contain the Edwards Aquifer and recharge zone, could more easily implement environmental and water policies.  Regional cooperation however may be more palitable, leaving local authority for local issues, while addressing regional issues in a more coordinated manor.  We could even implement more than one of these recommendations, such as more citizen involvement, greater efficiency within government, some functional mergers and regional cooperation. 

I'm all for efficiency in government, but before we rush off into something, we need to take a closer look.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Banning the Bag

Brownsville will soon be the first city in Texas to ban retail stores from using single-use plastic bags.  It's interesting that Brownsville, a medium sized border town, and not known for its environmental stance, is the first city to ban the bag, I would of thought it would be Austin, the hip, environmentally concious, capitol of Texas.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Texas Budget: Opt out of Medicaid??

Right now Texas legislators are looking at all sorts of ways to reduce the Texas budget.   One option being batted about is opting out of Medicaid, but opponents say this is too costly and could lead to no health services for the poor.  So what is really going on here?

According to the Fiscal Size Up
the Total Health and Human Services budget for the 2010-2011 biennium is $59.747 billion, $33.832 billion
of which comes from the federal government.  According to the LBB
The $4.4 billion increase [between 2008-09 and 2010-11] for Health and Human Services is primarily due to increased funding for the state’s Medicaid program.
Federal Funds are the largest source of funding for the HHS function. Many federal funding streams require General Revenue Fund (or other state fund) expenditures to draw down Federal Funds. State contributions can be a match, wherein General Revenue Funds comprise a set percentage of total expenditures, or a maintenance of effort, wherein the state expends a set dollar amount that is tied to previous expenditures.

The 2010–11 GAA establishes the following average monthly service levels for fiscal year 2011:
• health insurance for almost 3.2 million Medicaid recipients (including 2.2 million children);
• health insurance for more than 500,000 Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollees;
• cash grants to approximately 100,000 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) clients;
• adoption subsidies for over 30,000 children; and
• foster care payments for nearly 15,000 children per month.
Eligibility for many of these programs is based on income in relation to the federal poverty level (FPL)
When Politifact looked at Rick Perry's claim that the 

federal health care overhaul will cost Texas state government "upwards of $30 billion over the next 10 years."

they found that

An essential fact underlying all these figures: Health care reform becomes more expensive for the state as time goes on. Among the factors driving up costs down the line is the federal government's declining contribution for Medicaid. During the first three years of the Medicaid expansion (2014-2016), the feds pay all the cost of newly eligible enrollees. Starting in 2017, that federal share starts to drop, reaching 90 percent by 2020.

Another essential fact: So far, we've only mentioned the cost of health care reform to the Health and Human Services Commission. A June report by State Comptroller Susan Combs enumerates other costs — as well as some financial benefits — to the state as a whole, although it doesn't offer a net figure. (The comptroller's report also uses a different time period than the commission's, focusing on the 10 years from 2010 through 2019.)

For instance, on the expense side of the ledger is the mandated expansion of health plans administered by the Employees Retirement System of Texas, the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System.

One of the pluses: The comptroller's office estimates that the state will receive $1.3 billion in new revenue from a tax on premiums charged by insurers and health maintenance organizations licensed by the Texas Department of Insurance.

As for the projected increase in Medicaid costs, the comptroller's report jibes with the health commission's estimates. But it also tabulates the hefty federal contribution. For every dollar the state spends on new Medicaid enrollees through 2019, the federal government will spend $13, according to the figures in the report. The total federal contribution: $76 billion.
So Perry's claim was considered barely true because he exaggerated the state's contribution ($27 billion instead of $30 billion) and claimed that the costs would start immediately, when they actually don't start until 2014.  But Texas still has a $21 billion budget shortfall so one of the biggest state expenses, Medicaid, has to be looked at to find ways to lower the costs.

The Heritage foundation, a conservative think tank, has done a study bemoaning the burden of Medicaid on state budgets.
Unfortunately, states have lost considerable flexibility to reduce Medicaid’s burden on their budgets. As a condition for receiving the additional federal dollars, both the stimulus bill and PPACA [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] contain maintenance-of-effort (MOE) provisions that prohibit states from changing eligibility levels. States have resorted to slashing provider reimbursement rates and benefit packages to cope with rising Medicaid expenses and reduced revenue attributed to the recession. Forty-one states and the District of Columbia cut provider reimbursement rates in 2009 or 2010, and 29 states and the District did so in both years. Additionally, 39 states and the District cut Medicaid pharmacy benefits, and 22 states cut Medicaid medical benefits over the past two years.
 In the short term, however, the best solution is to remove the MOE requirements and give the states greater flexibility to manage the cost of their programs. 
So how would you remove the MOE requirements?  Opt out of Medicaid, it's a voluntary program. Here is a proposition by the Heritage Foundation for fixing the part of the problem, not enough doctors to treat Medicaid patients.
A Better Policy.
There is a better way. Rather than expand the funding for HRSA [Health Resources and Services Administration], Congress should convert the various training-related (and perhaps other) programs funded by this agency into block grants to the states. This would enable states to build upon their critical roles in the oversight of the health care workforce and encourage them to craft solutions relevant to their unique requirements. When the Reagan Administration collapsed the separate mental health service programs supported by the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration into block grants to the states, the clinical care system that emerged was able to “bend” the cost curve while offering more choice to patients and families through a more diverse workforce and other innovative strategies.[5] By virtue of the breadth of their oversight, states are in the best position to define the needs and develop the models for the future workforce across the health professions.
 But do these block grants exist already?? The CHIP program is covered by block grants.  So what's the difference in the way Medicaid is currently funded and the way block grants work

So Medicaid would continue with block grants, but rolls would probably not be allowed to increase.  At a time when the Texas population is expanding twice as fast as the entire US this might become a problem.  According to Rick Perry everyone has access to health care in Texas.  Here's Politfact's analysis
Everyone? Even people without health insurance?

When we asked for back-up for Perry's statement, his campaign didn't offer any data or additional analysis.

Next, we looked at hospital emergency rooms, often the portal through which uninsured people seek treatment.

Some background: In 1986, Congress responded to concerns that emergency rooms were refusing to treat indigent and uninsured people — a practice known as patient dumping — by approving the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. The act requires all hospitals with emergency rooms that participate in the Medicare program to medically screen, treat and stabilize any patient (including illegal immigrants) who shows up with an emergency medical condition. The law doesn't require hospitals to offer preventive or follow-up care.
However, not every condition that merits treatment is an emergency, and not every town has an emergency room. In Texas, 64 of the state's 254 counties don't have a hospital because it isn't economically viable, "particularly in the Panhandle and West Texas," said Amanda Engler, spokeswoman for the Texas Hospital Association. Still, Engler said "everyone should be able to access some level of care through the community."

A national health care expert, Henry Aaron at the left-leaning Brookings Institution, echoed Engler, saying that "everyone has access to some health care. The issue is what care and how much of it... If you live in a place where few physicians practice and you don't have a car, you may not get much."
Also the health care provided by emergency rooms tends to be a lot more expensive than visits to the doctor. Us tax payers will bear the burden whether the care is received through Medicaid or the emergency room at the county hospital.  I'm not convinced that going to block grants would be the end of health care for the needy, but at the same time it seems that it would definitely limit our options and could be more costly in the end if the poor spend most of our health care dollars in the emergency room.