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The Final Countdown – How Do Voters Feel About The Texas Budget Crisis?

It is down to the wire for the Texas Legislature to pass the budget for the next biennium, which ends this coming Monday, May 30. Texas lawmakers agreed to an $80.6 billion two-year spending plan on Saturday, May 21 when a 10-member conference committee, along with Lt. Governor Dewhurst and House Speaker Straus, compromised on the House and Senate budget plans. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst stated that final approval is hinged on the passage of several bills – mainly financing public schools and universities. Four days later, and with only four days left in the regular session, the House and Senate have yet to agree on education funding.

An article in The Statesman dated May 25 states that the two chambers have until Thursday to reach an agreement on how to appropriate the $4 billion reduction in state school aid. House leaders want a temporary fix that takes six percent off the top of each school district for the next two years, but by 2013, school funding would return to its present levels. On the other hand, Senate leaders say this approach would add to the pile of budget problems in 2013. Some of the troubles already in queue for 2013 are the $4.8 billion in projected Medicaid costs not covered in this budget.

It’s been harped on that the Senate, House, and Governor Perry do not want to spend the Rainy Day Fund or raise taxes to solve the budget shortfall, but a recent poll by the University of Texas / Texas Tribune shows how voters feel about the state’s budget crisis. When it comes to the $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund, 43 percent of voters agree the state should spend some or all of the money to balance the next budget, and 39 percent say it should be left untouched. Texas voters want cuts, but they oppose major cuts to education and health and human service: 85 percent oppose cuts to public education, 86 percent don’t want cuts to Medicaid, and 90 percent say no to cutting the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Unfortunately for voters, these areas are subject to the largest funding reductions.

Also according to the poll, when asked if they preferred to balance the next budget with spending cuts, by raising revenues, or something in between, only four percent of voters would choose to balance the books with new revenue and 18 percent said it should be balanced with budget cuts. Voters and legislators agree that budget cuts are necessary, but voters retreat when specific programs like education and Medicaid are brought to the chopping block. The Texas Legislature has tough decisions to make, but it is important that they consider the effects of their final decisions on future budgets. After all these cuts and no new sources of revenue added to the mix, when the 2013 budget discussions begin there will be no more money to strike without severely underfunding critical programs that matter most to voters.

To read more about the Texas Legislature’s $80.6 billion two-year agreement and education and Medicaid funding concerns, please visit Bloomberg.

The Clock Is Ticking On The House And Senate Budget Debate

The Texas Legislature is feeling the pressure of the looming deadlines imposed by the end of this legislative session on May 30. The only thing the Legislature must accomplish during regular session is passing the state budget, but that task seems to be the most difficult with a $15 billion-plus deficit and two very different budget plans from the House and Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee decided on Thursday, May 12 to take an additional $800 million from the Rainy Day Fund for the current budget, not the one two years from now. In total, the Senate proposed withdrawing $3.97 billion from the emergency fund and $3.1 billion has already been authorized by the House. However, Governor Perry has claimed he will not support using more than $3.1 billion, and the House is not likely to agree to using more either.

The House wants to keep its deep budget cuts but the Senate wants to spend more. These differences are creating a gridlock in the budget debate and time is running out with just over two weeks of session remaining. As time counts down, it is becoming apparent that the House may be unwilling to move from their $164.5 billion two-year plan, and the Senate is not willing to compromise funding for certain programs like education and Medicaid. As Senator Steve Ogden warned, “If the House doesn’t show some more flexibility, we’re going to special session.”

$8.3 billion is the magic number dividing the House and Senate chambers. No one wants to see important things such as education and public service programs go underfunded, but Texas has a daunting budget deficit that cannot be overlooked. The clock is ticking for the Texas Legislature to come to an agreement, but additional non-tax revenue sources must be found if the Senate and House are to agree on a budget. The Rainy Day Fund and the Senate’s accounting maneuvers are not appealing to the House or Governor Perry, and they are certainly not a long-term solution to solving Texas’ budget woes.

To read more about the Texas budget debate, please visit The Statesman and San Antonio Express-News.

House Passes Redistricting Maps And The Senate Continues Budget Debate

After much deliberation that lasted into the early morning, the House passed its redistricting map around 3:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 28 with a 92-52 vote. Legislators’ emotions peaked and the debate was heated as many of them fought to keep their legislative seat. The new maps turned several Republicans and a few Democrats against each other by pairing some of the current districts, which means two current legislators will be running against their colleague for one seat in the next election. More can be read about the long redistricting debate at The Texas Tribune’s website. The new House redistricting plan protects most of the Republican two-thirds majority, yet some Republican members want the map to increase conservative seats and limit the number of losses. However, Republican leaders have so many seats to defend that they cannot draw enough safe districts to protect every incumbent in future elections. Empower Texas has more details on the House redistricting maps.

In the other Texas chamber, the Senate Finance Committee is struggling to gain the necessary votes it needs to debate its budget plan on the Senate floor. The main reservation is the provision to use an additional portion of the state’s Rainy Day Fund to pay for more spending. The Statesman’s website provides more detail on the Senate’s budget dilemma. Governor Rick Perry has already stated he will not support additional money from the Rainy Day Fund for balancing the state budget, and the House has already proposed using $3 billion from the $9.4 billion emergency reserve to pay for the left over deficit from last biennium. The current debate over using Rainy Day Funds centers around whether the next two year budget should use these funds. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has sent some mixed signals on the issue. His latest position seems to be that he supports using $3 billion for the budget, but only as a “contingency”. In other words, he’s betting that the news from the Comptroller will improve, and there will be no need to use these funds as the economy improves and more revenue flows into the state’s treasury over the next several months. The Senate has decided to postpone redistricting until it has passed its budget plan.

Senate Crafts Their Budget Proposal, Promising Not To Increase Taxes

Over the past few weeks, the Texas Legislature has been occupied with constructing a budget for 2012-2013 that will alleviate the current budget shortfalls and not cause problems in the future. The House passed their $164.5 billion budget on April 3, and meanwhile, the Senate has been diligently working to craft their less intense budget plan while upholding their promise not to raise taxes. The Senate budget is alleged to be close to $16 billion more than the House plan.

On Tuesday, April 19, the Senate Finance Committee unveiled $4.8 billion in ideas to help solve the budget deficit. These included anything from accelerated tax collection, property sales, changes in unclaimed property programs, and other measures that can be read in detail at the Texas Tribune’s website. The Senate is not willing to consider deep budget cuts like the House because they want to ensure there is enough funding for their top priorities: public education and Medicaid.

The Senate is set to consider whether or not to use additional funding from the Rainy Day Fund on Wednesday, April 20. However, Governor Perry has already warned he will veto any proposal that uses more money from the $9.4 billion emergency account and the House opposes the idea as well. House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Jim Pitts stated that the House may be willing to support up to $4.5 billion more than what has already been spent if it goes toward education and as long as revenue could be found without increasing taxes.

Nothing has been finalized, but the Senate is scheduled to have their budget plan complete and sent to the House by May 1, leaving bother chambers with one month to compromise. It is important to point out that both chambers of the Texas Legislature have made every effort to solve the state’s budget crisis without raising taxes for the citizens of Texas.

Texas House of Representatives Passes Budget Without Raising Taxes

On April 3, 2011 the Texas House of Representatives passed their budget for the 2012-2013 biennium. House Bill 1 is a $164.5 billion, two-year budget that reduces spending by 3.7 percent from general revenue and 9.7 percent overall, which is approximately $23 billion less than the current budget that ends August 31, 2011. As can be seen in HB 1, the House’s priorities are education, 46 percent, and health and human services, 32.8 percent. This budget was passed without tax increases and focused primarily on cutting administrative costs and reducing overlapping agency functions.

The budget still needs to be considered and passed by the Senate, followed by a conference committee where each chamber of the legislature is represented by five members to discuss and finalize the state budget. Once the Senate and House approve the final bill it will go to Governor Perry for signature or veto.

HB 1 is a significant step toward cutting wasteful government spending without increasing taxes. Texas does not need additional taxation to supplement its budget shortfalls. The House’s proposition reflects this important principle by focusing on cutting costs, not finding new taxes and fees to disguise a serious spending problem.

More can be read about HB 1 at the Texas Insider website:

House Passes HB 1, Budget for 2012-2013 Biennium

Rep. Price: “Without Raising Taxes, House Passes Balanced State Budget for 2012 -2013″

Vote for Rainy Day spending likely Thursday night

By Martin Bartlett

Before lawmakers can write a state budget for the 2012 – 2013 budget cycle, they must first agree on how to pay the state’s bills which come due in the current budget cycle between now and August; bills like electricity for schools and salaries for teachers.

There is bi-partisan agreement on using money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. A vote is likely to come Thursday night. How to spend it, though, is a tougher question to answer.

“I doubt that even Lindsay Lohan would subscribe to this bill-paying method,” said State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio.

Democrats want to avoid cuts to schools, scholarships, and nursing homes. One approach they offered is using more of the Rainy Day Fund between now and August.

Voters approved creation of the Rainy Day Fund in 1988 to “offset unforeseen shortfalls in revenue.”

View the full article.